ATP Poll: Who Did The Most Good?

Posted on April 25, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, ATP Poll, People, Politics
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Adil Najam

Back in August 2006 and then again in July 2009 we conducted ATP Polls on the question: “Who did the most good for Pakistan?” We had structured the question carefully to focus on the good that these leaders did (all leaders do bad things as well as good, some more and some less, and in August 2009 we also did a poll on “who did the most harm?” which we may well repeat soon). It seems this is a good time to do a third installment of the same question to see how the opinions of our readers have evolved.

In 2006 we had not included Gen. Musharraf since he was still in power. In 2009 we did include Gen. Musharraf but not Asif Zardari; again, on the principle of only including past leaders in teh question. So, what do you think?

Please do take the question serious and answer it in the spirit asked:

The Question: Focussing primarily on whatever “positives” might have been achieved during their stint(s) in power, who, amongst the following, did the most “good” for Pakistan?

Let me repeat the explanatory paragraph I had included in introducing the question the first time:

The key word is “achieved.” We always have plenty of discussions about what leaders have and are doing wrong, but nearly never talk about what they did right. Interestingly, even when we are trying to make a case for someone, we tend to make it by explaining what is wrong with everyone else. After all, if everyone else is bad (and worse) then our guy must be good, at least in ccomparison and by default. The logic makes a perverse sort of sense but tends to take our political conversations towards confrontations (since they are based on “attacking” the other rather than on “supporting” our own). So, here is an experiment to see if we are capable of talking differently about such things.

As before, for Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif consider the combined impact of two stints they each had in power. Do also please tell us what you think they did that was most important and lasting to Pakistan’s well-being as a nation. Again, we focus on achievement here not because the ‘bad’ that they did was not important (in each case it was) but to discipline our conversation towards thinking of things that, maybe, we should be doing more of.

25 responses to “ATP Poll: Who Did The Most Good?”

  1. Aqil says:

    It would be a more instructive exercise if we actually listed down the good things done by the leader we’re voting for. The 3 serious contenders here would be Ayub, ZAB and Mush so let me just limit myself to them.

    Ayub Khan:

    – Family law ordinance
    – Started population control
    – The Indus water treaty. We under-estimate this but it has really helped Pakistan over the last 4-5 decades.
    – Economy (yes there were flaws in the distribution too but he did move the economy forward)
    – The green revolution
    – Infrastructure development
    – The steel mill. Most people associate it with ZAB but it was conceived in Ayub’s period (see the wikipedia article for more on this)
    – The basic democracies. Yes, using this system as an electoral college was wrong, but still establishing such a system of elected local bodies was a good step as it allowed participation of people at the grass-roots. This probably also somewhat ironically contributed to the politicization of the people which eventually led to the anti-Ayub movement.
    – a reasonably decent foreign policy, especially opening up relations with China while maintaining ties with the US.

    Now of course Ayub brought the military into politics and his rule laid the foundation for the separation of East Pakistan, so against the above list, there are some major negative points as well, but I’m just trying to stick to the topic here.


    The following can be cited

    – We can probably give him credit for continuing with the steel mills.
    – The nuclear program
    – foreign policy
    – The 1973 constitution.
    – Restoring national self-esteem after 1971
    – Giving voice to the under-privillaged.

    The problem we run into here is that objectively speaking, almost all these points have to be accompanied with some serious reservations. Credit for the steel mill and nuclear program has to be shared with others (PSM with Ayub and Yahya, and the nuclear program was also moved forward by Zia in a big way and continued by later govts). Giving ZAB credit for the restoration of national self-esteem after the separation of East Pakistan seems like a joke after his own role in 1971. Giving voice to the poor is undermined by the fact that ZAB used it for creating his own personality cult instead of giving the people a genuine say in the power structure through proper mechanisms such as elected local govts or intra-party democracy.

    ZAB did reach out to other parties while developing the 1973 constitution, and for that he deserves some credit. But in its substance, was the 1973 constitution very different from 1956 or say the one we were about to have in 1954? We often overlook the fact that he was in some sense building upon some of the things that had been worked out earlier, but he had the extra advantage of not having to perform the tough balancing act between East and West Pakistan that made constitution making very challenging in the 1950s.


    – Elected local govts
    – Higher education.
    – Women rights related. Provided an environment where issues like honour killings could be debated openly for the first time. Special seats for women in the assemblies, and especially local councils were a huge step forward. And of course, the women protection bill, which removed the probblematic parts of the hudood laws (after this amendment a rape victim did not have to produce 4 whitnesses). Some of this was however undermined by his disgusting statement about rape victims to Washington post.
    – Nadra. We under-estimate this but computerizing the national data base was pretty important.
    – Opening up the media. Here we should however recognize that Mush did not invent media freedom and it is something that would probably have happened eventually on its own too, but he does deserve some credit for expediting it. Of course his crackdown on the media during the lawyers’ movement does take some of the gloss off it.

    The economy was badly mismanaged though, so deserves a mention in the list of failures rather than accomplishments. Likewise for the struggle against extremism (especially the criminal manner in which the Taliban gradually took over Swat during his rule).

  2. Shaban Malik says:

    Any good any of them did is negated by the misdeeds of the sum total of their rule. Pakistan, in effect, was destroyed piece by piece by all rulers from October 1951 onwards till present day.

  3. Nazar says:

    sorry brother cant agree with you at all.. it was ZAB who let Pakistan split into 2… for this reason the scar he gave us he will never be forgiven.

  4. Lateef says:

    @ Zecchetti
    You are obviously totally unfamiliar with Pakistan political history.
    The notion that you suggest about ZAB is total nonsense and propaganda propagated by right-wing nots. Originally by the Jamaat i Islami goons (who were themselves very responsible for the killings in East Pakistan) and then also by military types to distract from their own responsibilities in what happened.
    Mujib did win elections and should have formed the government. What Bhutto was doing was political leverage to get more in that new dispensation but it was Yahya who really messed things up, including by using Bhutto.
    So, yes, you are right: You know nothing about Pakistan political history.

  5. Zecchetti says:

    I’m not hugely well versed in Pakistan’s political history, but wasn’t ZAB the one who effectively allowed Pakistan to break into 2? Wasn’t it the case the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won the most seats in Parliament, but because he was Bengali, ZAB didn’t allow him to become Prime Minister?

    So why does ZAB have the most votes???!

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