Nonetheless, Hussain need not be simply a ceremonial president, as most Pakistan-watchers expect. He could do worse than to follow the example of a former president of Pakistan’s great rival India. The Indian presidency is also largely a ceremonial position. Yet former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (2002-07) became a revered figure in India, inspiring his countrymen by his example, integrity, humor, lack of pretension, and force of character. Kalam led Indians to demand more of their politicians. They have frequently been disappointed, but the heightened expectations have provided Indian voters with a new yardstick with which to measure their leaders.
Following Kalam’s example, Hussain might help bring a new tone to Pakistani politics. Using the bully pulpit provided by his office, he could take the lead in making clear that a politics based upon cronyism, patronage, and feudal privilege – long the hallmarks of Pakistani politics — is no longer acceptable.
The Pakistani political system is broken. Pakistan suffers from an absence of leadership and vision, and of equal importance, from a fatalistic acceptance by many Pakistanis of incompetence and corruption. This is extremely harrowing given that, as my colleague Michael Kugelman has pointed out on these pages, “two thirds of the country’s approximately 180 million people are not yet 30 years old, and the median age is 21.” Further, the rot in the country’s political system gives almost no one hope that this trend might be reversed.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
If the new president, who at age 73 presumably has few political ambitions for himself, emulates the example set by his Indian counterpart a decade ago, he might help to establish a new standard for accountability, transparency, and integrity in government. He might even convince Pakistanis that politics is important, and can work for them. Were he to succeed in this task, he would do more than merely astound his skeptics; he would have provided a huge service to his country.
Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.