Legacies and Term Extensions

The editorial in Dawn yesterday about the decision to defer retirement of ISI chief Gen. Pasha so that he can continue his position raises important questions that broadly affect our democracy. Without question, Gen. Pasha has served the nation well and, as Dawn says, with impeccable credentials. But we must begin to question whether the best course for the nation is to allow individuals to become entrenched in their positions, or whether we would be better served by a regular change of command.

Much of the reporting in the media has focused on Gen Pasha’s impeccable credentials and the army’s desire for ‘continuity’ in the ISI chief’s office while the state is waging a counter-insurgency. But these are really not very good reasons. Gen Pasha may be an exemplary spymaster and he may deserve the nation’s gratitude for services rendered but is he really indispensable? The Pakistan Army is supposed to be the nation’s finest institution, an organised and disciplined force that nurtures and trains its future leaders over decades of training. Surely, then, there must be another officer in the entire Pakistan Army who is capable of stepping up and filling Gen Pasha’s shoes. (Technically, the ISI chief, supposedly selected by the prime minister, can be a civilian but the army has traditionally not allowed anyone from outside the service to occupy that office.)

We see this in too many aspects of leadership – individuals who are preserved in their positions beyond the natural time for them to move on. This results in a number of problems for the country.

First, by allowing the same individuals to continue in their positions beyond the natural date of retirement or appointment, we are not permitting new ideas and perspectives to enter into discussions of pertinent matters. Every person brings a unique perspective and ideas to their work, and out nation benefits when we make it so that new ideas are able to refresh our thinking. We run into problems when we get caught in a routine of stale thinking.

Second, by not permitting new faces to move into leadership positions, we are limiting the breadth of expertise and experience in our nation to a very few, and harming our long-term chances for progress. If the same person is at the top of an agency beyond his natural tenure, it discourages up and coming leaders from excelling to their full potential. Why do your best if you know that there is no hope for reaching the top? Also, when the person at the top does eventually leave, it means that there is not a strong group of candidates to take over. Rather, this is often where an appointed heir will take over command, whether he is really the best candidate or not.

This controversial practice of individuals staying in power for too long does not only limit itself to military, of course. We are seeing something very similar in the judiciary also. Recent proposals to change the language of the CoD to permit CJ Iftikhar to be head of the judicial commission is another example. Surely there is some other judge who is both esteemed and worthy of the appointment. This would not be an insult to CJ Iftikhar who is the most esteemed Chief Justice. But it would be an excellent opportunity to make sure that judicial appointments are independent and fair while giving someone else the opportunity to fill a leadership position.

By consolidating power in the hands of the same people for extended periods of time, we do ourselves a disservice. It is not anything against the esteemed leaders whose appointments and tenures come to an end. These individuals have largely served the nation well. But it is time perhaps for some new and younger individuals to have a chance at batting.

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