The story goes as follows: A barber had an expensive hair-cutting salon (Rs 500 for a haircut) in a posh area of town. One fine morning, a gentleman along with a nine-year old boy walked in and requested a haircut. After it was done, the fellow asked the barber to give a haircut to the boy and left saying he would be back soon. Having received a skilful and fashionable hair trimming, the boy wanted to leave the salon immediately. The barber asked the boy to wait for his father, as he would be back soon to pay the charges for both of them. The boy said: “What are you talking about? That man is not my father. I was playing cricket outside in the street and he asked me if I would like to have a free haircut. So I came along with him - I have never seen him before.” The boy left, the gentleman never returned, and the barber realised with the utmost surprise and sadness that he had been cheated clean on that fine morning.

The barber reflected carefully on this episode of the conman’s planned assault on his services and the loss of money. He decided to consult the head barber on the matter and devise a management strategy to avoid such an incident in the future. He counselled that the clients should be charged in advance, before being given salon services. But the customers were unhappy about this new advance payment practice; there were complaints about the services given and the clientele reduced substantially. The barber lost the confidence of his clients and the lucrative business was closed. It is said that he ignored the advice of his friends, who had suggested that he stop charging his clients in advance to restore confidence with his customers. But he remained steadfastly stuck to the decision of the head barber because of his lifelong patronage, support, and favours.

The barber’s story has made me think of the concepts of patronage, personal loyalty and unquestioned obedience, which are so commonly practiced in our socio-political culture. Should personal loyalty to one’s patron beyond any practical, rational, logical or even moral-ethical considerations be the single-most important element in our interpersonal socio-political discourse? Is personal loyalty in defiance of practical or moral-ethical norms absolutely essential? Is loyalty to a cause or a purpose less important than personal loyalty to an individual in exchange for personal favours? Then there is the fundamental issue of defining what being fair-minded is, and what the importance of fairness in society is. What is justice - where is it to be placed in the scheme of things in the progress of a nation? It is a universally valid principle that nations thrive and progress by a process of accepting some philosophical beliefs and conceptual notions larger than the narrow and marginally defined observance of patronage-loyalty relationships. These are some basic issues that need to be sorted out in today’s so-called democratic Pakistan.

Take, for example, the outgoing convicted Prime Minister’s absolute adherence to party loyalty and his personal allegiance to PPP’s Co-Chairman and the President of Pakistan. It is obvious that Yousuf Raza Gilani flawed on both of these accounts. Whereas Gilani, being the elected head of government, should have remained absolutely loyal to the entire nation in carrying out people’s welfare agendas, respecting the public democratic mandate and the acceptance of the burden of moral responsibility that is the determining element of this high political office, he preferred to demonstrate his personal loyalty to his patron rather than to the nation. Such have been the ideological flaws and intellectual imperfections of a political culture that is based purely on flattery and cajolery, on obsequiousness and toadying, and conceived on the idea of absolute personal loyalty to the patronage.

What are the credentials of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister? His personal loyalty to the PPP party and its top leadership (meaning the President/Co-Chairman and Chairman of the party) is absolute, unquestioned and considered his top credential. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, a one-time small businessman, has turned into an astute entrepreneur under presidential patronage, and he firmly believes in advance payments in all commercial transactions. Is he an astute politician? There is no evidence to support this contention. Is he a political visionary? No proof of that either. Is he a competent and efficient political manager? Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has been accused of massive financial and political mismanagement in his previous roles as a Federal Minister. Does he understand the intricacies of the foreign policy and diplomatic initiatives that are so very important in present-day Pakistan? No one anywhere, in Pakistan or abroad, will give you an affirmative response to this question. Is he a dynamic leader, a team player, a management “guru”, an inspiring political “pundit” or a pragmatic decision maker? None of the above - unless he proves observers and analysts wrong in the coming days! Is he a problem-solving wizard? So far, no one anywhere has observed this skill in his political conduct or in his personal attributes (compare all of the above, for illustrative purposes only, between Prime Minister Raja Ashraf and someone like PTI’s Imran Khan).

The point I am driving at is that today’s Pakistan, already at the brink of a political abyss and an economic meltdown, needs political leadership that understands the relevance of transformational change in the country. It is neither politically correct, ideologically appropriate, nor applicable in terms of strategic political management to keep on pushing the political-economic-social status quo in the country any further. We are reaching the limits of no return to normalcy if urgent steps are not taken to resolve the present national predicaments.

Look at the crises and problematics faced by the nation: Pakistan’s currency is in a freefall. An economic meltdown is at our doors. The energy crisis is fomenting civil war-like conditions all over the country. Drone attacks are continuing. American and Nato threats are escalating (the Americans are considering combined US-Afghan military raids on Pakistani territory). The price hikes and inflation are unprecedented and life for people has never been so dismal - people are committing suicide and common citizens’ deprivations have never been so glaring, and the nation has never been so demoralised. There are scandals followed by more scandals: memogate, Malik Riaz-gate, mediagate, rental power-gate, Shahabuddin-gate, and so on and so forth.

Amidst all of these immense national crises, the PPP leadership has managed to impose Raja Pervaiz Ashraf-gate on this unfortunate nation. He is neither a non-controversial person, nor is he a credible personality. So what is the endgame of all these political shenanigans?

Most certainly for the continuation of “patronage politics,” the intended rigging of the next general election, the proposed constitutional amendment to dislodge the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the planned institutional assault on the judiciary and the institution of the armed forces in Pakistan, etc, etc.

Should the nation expect heavenly intervention to protect it from ultimate disaster? Or should the Supreme Court Chief Justice invoke the constitutional power to order the concerned authorities to clear up the mess?

I would vote for clearing up the mess!

How about you? Make your voice heard any way you can!

n    The writer is UAE-based academic policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and the author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from

    Columbia University in New York.