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Dhaka Tribune

The new face of South Asian politics?

Update : 21 Apr 2013, 07:29 PM

Leadership is often overlooked by political scientists when they are analysing historical trends, defining paradigms and charting political economies. But the personality of a leader can actually have a more lasting impact on how things are remembered than any number of statistics.

The ideological legacy for good or ill, of Margaret Thatcher for example will not be remembered as vividly as her personality as a powerful woman, the Iron Lady who defended capitalism and enriched several generations of entrepreneurs. Her strength of character and values are her legacy and so it will be with emerging world leaders in the 21st century.

No longer are generals and dictators grabbing power and establishing corrupt dynasties, but increasingly, all over the world, democracy in all its shapes and forms is producing leaders who are visionaries, technocrats, pragmatists and most importanly representatives of their people. 

In Pakistan, for example, the election scheduled for May 11 this year, could see the coming to power of a charismatic leader with potential international stature, if Imran Khan’s party gains the majority vote, as is widely expected.

A victory for Imran Khan would herald a new era in South Asian history and a new leadership style and substance that reverses the usual story. Born in Pakistan and having received the best education, Khan became a cricket hero and a society celebrity before turning his back on fame to become a serious politician and philanthropist. 

Wholly committed to the future of the people of Pakistan, he represents the force for change that Pakistan has been waiting for, reflected by the drop in approval ratings to 14% of the last President, Zardari.

Khan does not have a military past to relinquish, nor will he be dazzled by fame and fortune as he has already lived a life of wealth and privilege; cosmopolitan and sophisticated, yet at ease in simple cotton clothes while caring for his farmland, he is comfortable in his own skin and sure of his own faith and destiny. 

Aware that his country is suffering from a corrupt government and a floundering economy, he has called on the best national and expatriate minds to help craft his policies for the future with teams of experts helping to write his reform agenda. 

He plans to restructure institutions and infrastructure, solve the energy crisis, spur economic growth, reform the legal system and improve public safety. This is certainly an ambitious agenda but one that can be achieved given national and political will. He also believes that the sectarian and ethnic violence in the country can be ended, by distancing Pakistan from international politics and dealing with terrorism as a national problem. 

Outspoken against the US drone strikes in the north, he sees them as counter-productive, feeding anti-Americanism and turning more people towards the militants. 

The potential loss of US aid is not a factor, as it is widely known to be propping up the current political structure, helping to keep it in power. 

Without international aid, Pakistan will be forced to make reforms and become a more independent and democratic country.

Imran Khan’s vision for his country is similar to that of other rising leaders in Muslim countries where colonialism has been replaced by corrupt dictators and authoritarian military leaders, intent on maintaining their own power and prosperity to the detriment of their people. 

The Arab Spring has shaken their complacency and their overthrow has provided opportunity for a new aspect of politics in countries such as Egypt and Libya and soon, hopefully, Syria. 

Nobody thinks the transitions will be fast or easy. 

But, Imran Khan could well become the new paradigm for people-centered politics. Nationalistic, centrist, pragmatic, intellectual and faith-based, new leaders like Imran Khan are the best hope for their countries and the rising generations asking for change.

All eyes will be on Pakistan’s election on May 11 and will be hoping for free and peaceful voting with the result the people of Pakistan deserve.


Azeem Ibrahim is a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.



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