The most destructive of Pakistan’s leaders

August 21, 2009

If India is agonising over a book that seeks to demolish the conventional view that Muslim leaders forced the division of the subcontinent in 1947, across the border some Pakistanis are attempting a bit of introspection too.

The popular All Things Pakistan blog is running a poll this week asking readers a single question: which leader did the most harm to the country in the past 60 years, not counting the current administration which came into office only this year after elections in February.

It’s a small poll by the very nature of the medium, confined to people who visit the blog and so not very representative or even very professional by the standards of  surveys. But it offers  a fleeting glimpse of a nation wrestling with multiple challenges. Even the question itself tells you something about the prevailing mood.

Quick results : General Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator who turned Pakistan into a frontline state against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, comes out as the leader who’s done the most damage to the country with 42 percent of those polled picking him. 

Does that reflect a belief that Zia’s self-declared Islamicisation policies created a “culture of jihad” within Pakistan which threatens to consume it now ? 

General Pervez Musharraf is the leader next seen to have inflicted the most damage, with 21 percent choosing him, followed by Field Marshal Ayub Khan at 12 percent.

Slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto comes out on top with only 5 percent saying she had the hurt the country, even better than her father and also former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, with 10 percent blaming him most for the country’s ills.

A month ago, All Things Pakistan conducted another poll, this time asking readers : Who did the most good?. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto topped that poll with 36 percent support followed by Musharraf at 23 percent.  It may not be as contradictory as it seems , it probably points to the strong feelings that Musharraf evokes on either side of the debate.

{Photographs of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and portraits of General Zia-ul-Haq]

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