Climbing up the greasy pole - Shafqat Mahmood - Friday, April 15, 2011

A recipe for success in life should be obvious: basic intelligence, good education, hard work and a few lucky breaks. It works quite often, but only up to a point. Those who reach the very top have something more: fire in the belly, native cunning, eye always on the ball and a willingness to pay any price, bear any burden.

I was reminded of this after Babar Awan’s sacrifice of his ministry to plead the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reference to the Supreme Court. Here is a man accused of distributing sweets after the great leader’s hanging. Ijazul Haq claims that the said Awan was a diehard supporter of his father and was the stage secretary on Zia’s first death anniversary. And now, twenty-odd years later, the same man is going to plead the Bhutto case.

It is not as if Babar Awan’s chequered past is not known in the party. Politics is a hard playground and the competition in the parties for a few crumbs of office is cutthroat. Anything and everything is used to bring a competitor down. Lies are easily manufactured if evidence of perfidy is not available, but if it is, no one lets you forget it.

So also it has been with Awan. When he first made his appearance in the party ranks in the late nineties, he was not only looked at with suspicion but every possible garbage was thrown at him. Yet, he has not only survived but prospered.

The reason is that little extra he brought to the table. He was willing to defend the indefensible, say and do anything that pleased the boss, and never for a minute let conscience or any other nicety of life, such as morality or right and wrong, bother him.

These are the qualities that not only he but many others have used to inch up life’s greasy pole. Another classic example in the PPP is Rehman Malik. He is everyone’s favourite: Zardari, Gilani, the Americans, even the military. The simple fact is that, besides being smart, he has dollops of native cunning.

For instance, he has a sharp eye for power and is willing to bend until his head touches the floor to serve those who have power. Stupid things like ego or self-respect never bother him. Moral values as generally perceived are conceptual constructs he has never had the time to pay attention to. He was too busy fighting his way up. From a lowly FIA employee, he is now the interior minister of the country, and a very rich man to boot.

Lest it is misunderstood – because Rehman Malik is very nice to me whenever we run into each other – I say this not in a condemnatory tone but admiringly. The Babar Awans and Rehman Maliks of this world, who started with few advantages in life, have a fire in their belly that many others, eminently good people, don’t have. They are determined to succeed, come what may, and do.

Such people thrive in our political milieu. If our political parties were collegial enterprises in which everyone could aspire for leadership, things like education, understanding of policies, probity and uprightness, loyalty to party ideals and, of course, tactical skills would be highly valued. But this is not the case here.

Our political parties, with one or two exceptions, are family enterprises passed from generation to generation like other material assets. This obviously means no internal party democracy because the leader is supreme and whatever he or she decides is unchallengeable. People rise and fall within them seldom for political reasons, but because the leader takes a fancy to or develops an aversion for someone.

What the leaders generally cannot stand is anyone who disagrees with them, even if the reasoning is good. They also value people who would be ready to do anything and in their estimation further the family enterprise. At these times, it does not matter what their past is or what nasty political affiliations they have had. It is their skill and can do spirit that is considered important.

A quick look at the federal setup is a testimony to this. There is a whole legion of good people in the PPP, such as Raza Rabbani and Taj Haider from Sindh, Qamaruz Zaman Kaira, Qasim Zia, Ghulam Abbas from Punjab, and many others from KPK, who have been left by the wayside. They are not only honest, educated and hardworking but have stood by the party for a long, long time.

Yet, what do we see. The top positions are occupied not only by Rehman Malik and Babar Awan – recent entrants with questionable histories – but Firdous Ashiq Awan who was in Musharraf’s party, Hina Rabbani Khar, who was Shaukat Aziz’s minister, Hafeez Sheikh, ditto, and, until recently, Waqar Ahmed Khan, who has been everywhere.

The situation is not too different in other parties. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and his allies are out of the loop in the PML-N not because their sacrifices are less than anyone else’s, but because the leadership does not like them. Others continue to hold high positions because they please the leader. It is this that makes or breaks a career, not their performance or popularity among the party rank and file.

I am using politics as an example because the figures are well known, but it is no different in other organisations. Intelligence, education and hard work would carry you up until a glass ceiling is reached. Beyond that, other factors would start to weigh in.

Among the military, the system seems fairer because people at the top are generally better than the rest. But I sometimes meet two- or three-star retired generals, admirals or air marshals who are not very bright, and it makes one wonder. And a few retirees who did not make it to the top ranks appear sharp as nails. Well read, bright, and apparently competent, but obviously, that extra bit was not there.

Life is hard and the road to success not easy. Some would quibble with the use of the word success to describe worldly advancement. A good case can be made that real success is spiritual attainment or living a stress-free life, with greater space for aesthetics and morality.

Fair enough, but in this case, the focus is on career paths and people who reach the top in their specific spheres of activity. The good life in a philosophical sense is a different quest altogether. The parameters for it are otherworldly and satisfaction not easy to calculate. It is the crass material world that provides easily identifiable examples.

Let us then stop and admire those that have gone up the greasy pole of worldly success inch by inch. It takes determination and perseverance. Let those left behind worry about honour and morality.


Source :

No comments:

Post a Comment