Pakistan: Why Good Advisers Matter?

A leader of consequence needs an adviser or advisers to take sane council from, particularly in times of distress. Individuals and/or groups can expert major influences without being the actual leaders but if they look towards their personal interests, and not of their leader, they can cause havoc.

Posted on 09/13/18
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Prime Minister Imran Khan is receiving praise for some bold decisions in the early days of his administration. But a few controversial appointments are also stirring criticism.

Two names were recently recommended to the PM Imran Khan for appointment as Managing Director of Pakistan International Airlines.  One was a former MD who had earlier set PIA on the road to destruction and would probably have been lynched by the PIA rank and file, the other recommendation was about someone professionally unqualified for the job, the individual’s major qualification was being related to someone important.  Not only did the VIP have any idea that his name was being used, he had given strict instructions that if any friend or relative used his name they must not be accommodated.  To his credit, the PM turned down both the names.  Some bureaucrats operate on the classic ploy of getting two birds with one stone without taking any blame themselves. Selection of the important person’s unqualified relative would have caused a furor, embarrassing not only the PM but also the VIP in question. With such unscrupulous people around the PM, “Dr. Atif Mian” types of blunders are likely to be engineered regularly. Guess who stands to suffer the political fallout?


With a deep understanding and extensive knowledge about a specific topic or field, advisers have cross-functional and multi-disciplinary expertise. This mentor or guide is typically part and parcel of the leadership inner circle, having specific skills and knowledge and the ability to impart sound and sane advice. With specialization and innovation advisers are now an integral part of businesses, financial institutions, educational institutions, legal firms, insurance houses, governments, etc. They are also part of the decision-making processes of various Ministries, the Prime Minister (PM), the President or whoever at that hierarchical ruling level needs to make sound decisions. They synthesize information rapidly and develop a comprehensive understanding and analysis thereof of the context and key issues at hand to be conveyed as options those in charge. Chosen with the great care and diligence, the advisers’ sole driving motivation must be the country’s interest first and foremost, and thereafter the interest of their leader, and in that order. An adviser having even an iota of personal motivation or his own interest will bring about disastrous consequences for those governing in any capacity.


The history of advisers, good and bad, is very old but quite fascinating. Some famous advisers who were successful in helping their leaders achieve their aims, viz(1) Chanakhya was a master strategist and a shrewd politician who helped Chandragupta of the Maurya dynasty run his empire. His book “Arthashastra” is considered as the holy grail of Hindu politics and diplomacy (2) the Hindu adviser to Mughal Emperor Akbar, Birbal’s, wisdom was unparalleled, he was known for his wit and innovative solutions to many problems faced (3) As the Prime Minister to Wilhelm I of Prussia, and later the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck was instrumental in the unification of various German principalities into the German Empire and building its world-renowned bureaucracy and army. Yelü Chucai was a trusted adviser to Genghis Khan who once ruled most of the known world. Chucai convinced the Mongols to tax conquered cities instead of destroying them as per usual practice, arguing that the money and manpower gained from the cities could fund future conquests. A common feature was their loyalty to their sovereign, instead of being “prima donnas”, their approach was low-key and behind the scenes.


Unfortunately, throughout history many advisers have also proven themselves to be neither honest nor efficient, many leaders were duped by their closest advisers. Their own agenda included power, some desired revenge, some hungered for control while others sought to oust a leader they deemed unfit for duty. Many leaders met tragic ends at the hands of their advisers.  With a naive and pious King Henry VI of England not interested in politics or state affairs, a small group of advisers took full control of the country. He was eventually declared unfit to rule by his leading relatives and advisers.  Infamous mystic Rasputin won favor with Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russian and his wife, by convincing them that he had cured their son of the bleeding disorder hemophilia, which even today has no known cure. Though his political influence was relatively minor, the Czarina increasingly listened to his political counsel.


Entrusted by US President Leaders in 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant led the US armies to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War in 1865. At age 46, he was elected as the 18th President of the United States in 1869, the youngest in US history until that time.  Although highly scrupulous himself his administration was tainted with scandal. His misfortune was that except his longtime confidante, Gen Rawlins, who functioned as his Chief of Staff, many of his close advisers let him down. Considered by Grant as the most indispensable man he had around him, Rawlins, unfortunately, died after only five months of service suffering from tuberculosis.


With no check on them, Grant’s other Advisers went berserk after Rawlins died. Appointed Secretary to the US President, Orville Babcock became embroiled in corruption charges and was accused of manipulation of both cabinet departments and appointments. Out of loyalty to their shared battlefield experience, Grant shielded Babcock from all political attacks. Indicted as a member of the “Whiskey Ring” in 1875 he was protected by Grant providing a written deposition on his behalf resulting in Babcock’s acquittal. However many other scandals resulted in Babcock leaving the White House under pressure from Secretary of State Hamilton Fish who conceivably was one of Grant’s finest Cabinet officers. Unfortunately President Grant’s choices of cabinet members, staff and advisers were notably mostly “hit and miss”. Though scrupulously honest himself he was not a good judge of character, Gen Grant had a penchant for appointing the wrong people and then being too loyal to those who proved dishonest and opportunistic. His administration’s scandals rocked both of his presidential terms.  Historian Henry Waltmann argued that Grant’s political naïveté undercut his effectiveness. Well-intentioned but shortsighted he listened now to one faction and then to another among the generals, cabinet members, state politicians, and advisers.


A leader of consequence needs an adviser or advisers to take sane council from, particularly in times of distress. Individuals and/or groups can expert major influences without being the actual leaders but if they look towards their personal interests, and not of their leader, they can cause havoc. Benefitting not only from thoroughly vetted and stress-tested honest and objective perspectives, a leader can then make good decisions, for the country and for himself.

The writer is a defense and security analyst.

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