Why is a country with disaster on its hands stuck with a disaster of a leader, too? It seems almost absurd to take Pakistan's 20 million uprooted by flood and measure their plight against the political skills of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Can one man's ineptitude make so much of a difference? And yet – in response to profound crisis, in winning more than 20% of the aid the UN says it needs – Zardari has found a defining moment and come up short again.
How on earth did he tramp round Britain, trading terrorism talk with David Cameron, making party speeches in Birmingham, when the depth of the tragedy was already clear? Why on earth is he jetting off to Moscow this week? Leadership is a matter of mood and symbolism as well as constitutional authority, but Zardari just hasn't got it.
Alas, there's more here to lament than simple frailty. There's a thesis of power that holds the whole subcontinent in thrall. D is democracy, to be sure, but D is also for dynasties (and their right to go on governing). Who is prime minister of Bangladesh? Why, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who founded the country four decades ago. And leader of the opposition? Why, the widow of President Zia Rahman, murdered three decades ago. Who is president of India's ruling Congress party? Why, Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi – another assassinated leader, dragooned into taking the helm after his mother, Indira, was shot by her guards. Indira, of course, was Nehru's daughter.
Forget Sri Lanka and the Bandaranaikes: the Bhuttos of Pakistan take the dynastic biscuit. Here's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who I first knew as the dictator Ayub's foreign minister, and then as elected prime minister. Another military dictator, the appalling Zia, hangs him and ensures the martyrdom of the memory. Benazir Bhutto, his daughter, is prime minister twice amid more bouts of military rule and too many charges of corruption. She returns from exile in 2007 and is swiftly, too swiftly, killed.
With her brothers dead (poisoned in Nice, gunned down by police in Karachi) there is a distinct shortage of Bhuttos to carry the name, and their Pakistan Peoples party, forward. Bilawal, Benazir's son, is only 18 and going to Oxford, so it's back to Asif Zardari, who's spent over a decade in and out of prison for corruption. He was Benazir's husband in an arranged marriage. And now it's arranged that he be president.
Zardari was in Birmingham to highlight Bilawal's availability for political service. We haven't even begun to shake off the dynasts yet. But as the man they used to call Mr Ten Per Cent quails before a raging flood, maybe there's a chance to pause and reflect. Sometimes, in history, blood lines come up trumps. But usually, from the Kennedys to the Bushes, two generations at most kill warm expectation. You're highly unlikely to find the next great leader in a nursery or a marriage procession.
And here is one tragedy among many more for Pakistan. Its civil society is weak, no match for an overweening army, because its political leaders grow from such withered roots. Its reverence for democracy is rooted in cults of personality, not ideas. When there's a test of inspiration, of the ability to transform a national tragedy into a triumph of national resilience, then the test seems barely realised, let alone failed.
Too much blame for Zardari? Perhaps. He can't pull many more levers in Islamabad than Brum. But when it's all over, with only more memories of suffering left, then wonder what might have been if this wasn't the end of the line.