Power and the Powerful

Spearhead Opinion-28.05.2020

Power has many definitions. It’s the legal or authoritative right to control. Its the ability or capacity to act in a particular way. It’s the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. It is military strength. It’s the authority given or delegated. it is stature in terms of international image and strength. There can be many more definitions and facets especially when we consider power in the context of specifics like politics, business, military etc. but the most abiding and enduring general definition is the ability to make others do what they may not want to do or make an organization or institution to work as a team towards a common goal.

Power, regardless of its origin, is a resource and like all resources can be used judiciously and effectively or frittered away by excessive and unnecessary use. Much like money in the bank—and like money in the bank it can grow or dissipate. A sure sign of the dissipation of power is an increasing reliance on authority, coercion, control and eventually compromise. The correct use of power can spell the difference between success and failure and between motivation and disillusionment.

There is a link between leadership and power because all leaders have, and exercise, power. One can be in a leadership position because of an appointment, or rank, or elected office or authority assigned or delegated– but being in a position to exercise power does not make one a leader nor does the power that comes with the position make one an expert in the use of power. Leadership skills whether God given or acquired give one the ability to accumulate and carefully calibrate the use of power. A poor leader relies on the authority of his office, his rank or his appointment to use power to control, to coerce, to reward or to punish. A true leader relies on the organizational structure that he builds by harnessing expert power and delivering results without the whiff of cronyism or favorites or those seen as hypocrites or sycophants. He does not need others to extol his virtues or sing his praises. His actions and behavior and the results of his policies do all the talking. Charisma and international image status are plus points but not a substitute for the judicious use of power without a total reliance on authority, control or coercion.

A national or international crisis throws up the biggest challenge to leadership. This is when the expertise and credibility of the team created by the leader comes into play besides the personal conduct of the leader himself. Neither the relationship to a power center nor media management can let the national leadership off the hook. Pakistan faces and fights the Covid Virus with a policy that, at the national level, balances between lives and livelihoods. It is the Prime Minister who has set the tone for policies and so far the country is doing all right. The PIA crash has highlighted many negatives but the team appointed to manage the PIA is handling the situation and the outcome should determine the future of the PIA and its management. There are fears of a locust onslaught that could threaten food security and exports. There is also a floods warning. An overworked NDMA is preparing and so far delivering. A report on the ‘sugar crisis’ has been released. From all accounts it is a comprehensive report and it is a first for the country with the credit going to the Prime Minister who has promised action against those found at fault as well as a permanent end to the extractive practices of the past. The report on the ‘flour crisis’ is expected to follow the same pattern. The economy is, and has been, under stress but is being managed by experts and so far there has been no upheaval and the financial response to the Virus fallout has been adequate. The national Budget due next month will be an indicator of the future. There is political polarization and this coupled with the high profile NAB and government functionary public interactions, fully exploited by the media, is giving the country and national politics a negative image. This is a situation that needs to be addressed through a carefully thought out and orchestrated policy—power and authority alone will not lead to control. Finally, Pakistan faces a totally irrational India that has now tangled with China. So far Pakistan’s response has been mature and restrained and this response comes from the confidence of a splendid balance between strategic, operational and tactical capacities. Pakistan has also handled the Afghan situation well in the context of overall foreign policy.

There is, of course, no room for complacency. There is colossal uncertainty but there is no call for doomsday scenarios either. People are taking political vendettas and low caliber discussions in their stride—much like background noise. Those who matter are busy addressing the issues that matter with the power resources at their disposal. In a democracy you have to patiently wait for the results. The nation is being patient—very patient—-and it deserves positive outcomes.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)