Patrimonialism Vs merit by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

An interesting exchange happened between DNA anchor Arif Nizami and former President Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Nizami asked him a question about hereditary politics in Pakistan. Instead of answering the question Mr. Zardari asked the profession of Mr. Nizami’s father which turns out to be journalism. And that settled the question during the program. This was a good political ploy by Mr. Zardari because all fathers or mothers watching the program immediately associated their own desire for their sons/daughters to follow in their footsteps. But the question is not whether Mr. Bilawal Zardari or Reham Khan or Hamza Shahbaz should participate in politics or not but that what gives them the right to get on top of everyone else from day one. Why Bilawal at the age of 19 should become co-chair of one of the largest political party in Pakistan while capable people like Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani and Makhdoom Amin Fahim are denied the chance to lead their party. Will the same Bilawal be allowed to become co-Chair of PPP if accident of birth did not decided his mother to be Benazir Bhutto?

The reality is that Pakistan is a nation where majority of the people are mureeds whether religious or political. They need a patriarchal head that can magically transform their lives and take them to a brighter future. Khudi of Iqbal is still a dream and far from becoming a reality. Majority of the highly educated people supporting PPP are not only comfortable that a 25 years old should lead the party but also campaign aggressively to tell the nation he revive the party just because his mother was Benazir Bhutto. They also present the argument that similar hereditary politics are experienced in India, USA, and other parts of the world. But there is difference in approach in developed and under developed countries. In under developed countries the sons want to lead the parties from the day they attain puberty while in developed countries a person has to earn it by rising through the system from bottom. Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush or Robert Kennedy could not tell their nations that they should get their votes because their siblings or fathers or Husbands were Presidents earlier. Infact President Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the nomination process and a tea peddler from Gujrat defeated Rahul Gandhi handsomely in India. Similarly current Indonesian President also defeated a hereditary politician. President Xi Jinping is called a princeling because his father occupied a prominent position during the tenure of Deng Xiaoping. But President Xi did not become President because of his father but because of his own capability demonstrated by serving at the lowest level of the ladder.

I have no problem if Mr. Zardari give all his Bilawal Houses and Surrey Palace to Bilawal as these are his private property. Similarly father of Mr. Arif Nizami or any other father for that matter can leave their businesses to their sons. But I do find it troubling that Mr. Zadari considers Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) a commercial enterprise which can be inherited by Bilawal Zardari from his parents. A political party is or should be a public property and members of the party should decide who their leader will be. When Raza Rabbani wept on the parliament floor it was symbolic representation of the tears of the nation since independence and for the foreseeable future if current politics continued.

Message of Quran is very clear about hereditary assumption of goodness, capability and power through various stories of past generations. Among Adam’s (RA) sons Abel and Caine one was good and one was bad. Son of Noah was left behind because he was not among faithful. Prophet Yaqub (RA) had many sons but Yousuf (RA) became a prophet while others were bad and conspired against him. Prophet Dawood (RA) and his son Sulaiman (RA) were both prophets but because of individual capability and goodness. Father of Prophet Ibrahim (RA) was an idol creator but the son refused to follow in his father footsteps. Both sons of Prophet Ibrahim (RA), Isaac (RA) and Ishmail (RA), were prophets. But when Prophet Ibrahim prayed that his progeny should be allowed to lead the world God accepted the prayer with the condition that leadership will be given to those that are righteous. Quran also says repeatedly in many verses that the best among you are those that are righteous without any references to their ancestors. It is the individual capability and righteousness that makes a difference although belonging to a good family certainly brings its advantages.

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama recently published a two volume book on political development in various cultures and societies starting from prehistoric to modern times. He has presented the argument that there has always been a struggle between patrimonialism and merit. Those societies that controlled tribal instincts of preferring patrimonialism over rule of law and merit always progressed ahead of others. A society may evolve a good system that contains patrimonialism but eventually elite of the society perfect the system and take advantage of it. So there has to be a constant struggle against it and the system has to be evolved to ensure it allows best of the society to rise to the top. He has also suggested that religion provides a good foundation to develop moral values and respect for rule of law and should be incorporated in the political system.

Pakistan cannot evolve as a stable democracy unless political parties are reformed to become public properties rather than remain family commercial enterprises or cult of personalities. When Imran Khan emerged on the political scene, he had no baggage of hereditary politics or links with political clans. He toiled in the wilderness for 19 years without much success. The non-performance of PPP and family politics of PML N disappointed people and they started rallying around Imran Khan with the hope that he will introduce new type of politics, will honor merit and convert PTI into an institution. Just when it looked like this dream will become a reality, Imran Khan took a u-turn and embraced hereditary politics by providing platform to a new breed of political elites that could not rise to the top due to tight control of constituencies by PML N and PPP. This is huge setback for the emergence of political institutions in the country.

Pakistan requires new politics that are in tune with the teachings of Islam where capability of an individual makes him suitable for leadership rather than inheritance. The country can only become an Islamic Social Welfare state when there is a political institution that gathers capable people on one platform.

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