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Which country has not lamented, as the poet Kahlil Gibran put it, that its leaders are either in the cradle or in the grave? Look around the world. Bankruptcy is not a financial condition limited to poorer countries. Even the most affluent or enviably developed are suffering from a dearth of dependable, trustworthy leadership. 

At these critical times, Pakistan needs something more than the revivifying fiscal fix from the deep-pocketed quartet of the I.M.F., China, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Never before in its turbulent history has it needed the strong hands of an experienced leadership to guide it back to a semblance of normalcy.

The politicians after Quaid-e-Azam passed democracy from hand to hand as if it was a cushion in a child’s game. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Musharraf put tin helmets on their mannequins of democracy. Elected leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto and their PPP successors, and alternately the dynastic Sharifs offered promises in empty envelopes. The present leadership continues to blow from broken trumpets. Our country, yet again, finds itself trapped in a trough of despond.


To many Pakistanis, Imran Khan offered more than an image of a sporting icon who saw the nation as his extended pitch and the electorate as his team. He asked the public to believe in him because he believed completely and implicitly in himself.

He has sacrificed over 27 years of his gilded life in politics, with three and a half years in power. Today, he is entangled in a web of cases whose objectives seem to be to tarnish his image, to tire him into submission, and to disqualify him from leading his PTI party in the forthcoming and future general elections.

One would not blame him for smashing his cricket bat in frustration, as Novak Djokovic did his tennis racquet during the Wimbledon finals this month. It would be an understandably human reaction. But leaders are expected to be supra-human, if not superhuman, to behave in J. F. Kennedy’s words, with ‘grace under pressure’.

Thirty-six year old Djokovic’s defeat at the hands of 20 year old Carlos Alcaraz seems to suggest that he is past his prime. His fans believe not.

Imran Khan is 70 years old. Is his future too behind him? His public following – undiminished apparently, despite the efforts of his opponents to euthanise him politically – believes not. Unlike the lemming PTI leadership that deserted him in his hour of need, they are convinced that there is life in their septuagenarian leader yet.

When discussing leadership, the late PPP leader Jehangir Bader may seem an unlikely insertion. Yet, his book How to be a Leader – the Making of Leaders (2004) garnered an introduction by the late Benazir Bhutto, in which she referred to the ‘lashes, long terms of imprisonment, mental torture, threats and torments’ Bader had endured for over two years during the regime of General Zia ul Haq.

Bader compiled his book of essays on leadership while in jail, in emulation of his leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who wrote his If I am Assassinated (1979) in his cell in Rawalpindi jail. Bhutto had in turn been inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946), penned by him while he was imprisoned by the British at Ahmadnagar Fort.

Many of Bader’s observations are borrowed, some ideas obviously taken from the minds of others. He describes a true leader as being one who ‘lives among his people and for his people. He never betrays his subjects.’ He deplores those who ‘fortified by privileges and social prerogatives […] keep themselves away from the process of law and confer on themselves a self-style protection system.’ Has anything changed over the years?

Imran Khan has described himself as another Nelson Mandela, the South African leader. Imran Khan perhaps sees an analogy between the 27 years he has spent in politics and the 27 years Mandela spent incarcerated in Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.


If he had found the time to read Mandela’s sayings, he would have come across this quote by Mandela: ‘In my country, we go to prison first and then become President.’

The years of his maltreatment by the White Apartheid regime could not break Mandela’s spirit, nor extinguish his innate humanity. Only a man of his moral stature could say: ‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

If only our leaders could understand that, whether they have been imprisoned by the state or not, they have, like Mandela, to leave bitterness and hatred behind. Otherwise, they will continue to serve sentences in prisons of each other’s makings.  



[Dawn, 27 July 2023]

27 July 2023
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