As the saying goes, some are born great, some acquire it and some find greatness thrust on them. Zardari certainly belongs to the last category.
After his dramatic release, (the late) Benazir took him outside the country. He was beginning to project himself as the man of the moment, all set to lead the party while the supremo was away. Benazir’s untimely death pulled him back.
He lost no time in picking up the reins of the party. He rose to the occasion and skillfully addressed the situation arising out of the great tragedy of Benazir’s assassination, announced national mourning for a period of 40 days, held party executive meetings and on the basis of Benazir’s “will” firmed up his hold on the party. He was shrewd enough to continue the Bhutto legend by naming his son – Bilawal Zardari Bhutto as the chairman.
During the latter’s absence abroad for the pursuit of studies in England he would be running the party affairs as co-chairman. To ensure his emergence as the unquestioned master he had to sideline the man who had faithfully and diligently looked after party affairs for years while Benazir was away, having self-exiled herself, to avoid cases filed against her in the courts. Makhdoom Amin Fahim did try to assert his credentials but failed to muster enough strength to secure primeministership.
Zardari not only inherited the stewardship of the party, he also found himself bound to the policy and strategies forged by his deceased spouse. There was this deal with Musharraf, brokered and backed by the State Department in Washington. The deal was anchored on the dictator withdrawing all the corruption cases pending against her and her husband. This objective was realized by the promulgation of an Ordinance. It was clothed in the seemingly desirable idea of national reconciliation. At one stroke tens of dozens of accused mostly linked to PPP could look forward to a fresh unfettered political career.
The party as expected, boosted by the sympathy vote, did well in the elections and carried enough seats to become the dominant political force at the centre and in Sindh while having substantial strength to make comfortable coalition governments in the Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan.
As the unchallenged master of the most powerful political force in the country, with Musharraf discredited because of the verdict of the people against him and his party, with continuing close relations with PML (N) based on Benazir’s pledge enshrined in the Charter of Democracy and the need for a robust coalition partner at the centre, with unrelenting American pressure made visible after the elections as well as formidable economic and social challenges including fuel, electricity and atta shortages, spiralling inflation, macro-economic shortfalls as also the horrendous security situation in the north-west, with threats of direct military action by the Americans and NATO forces and with unabated alienation in Balochistan, not to speak of the urgent issue of the restoration of the judges, how was Zardari to conduct himself in these daunting circumstances?
Zardari manifested impressive capability to move ahead with his strategy of reconciliation and making partnerships with political parties. He kept in touch with the American establishment, showed willingness to enter into a working relationship with Musharraf, successfully wooed the MQM, brought Maulana Fazalur Rehman on board and above all kept up bonhomie with Nawaz Sharif. He accommodated the PML (N) leader by entering into an Accord with him at Murree pledging himself to restore the deposed judges through a parliamentary resolution within 30 days.
All this amounted to a remarkable achievement. Now that all the cases pending against him stood withdrawn, with Musharraf commissioning the ever ready Attorney General to ensure that foreign courts also let Zardari off, with the central and most of the provincial governments at his beck and call and with his close henchmen like Rehman Malik and Naek wielding real power under his close guidance, can he overcome the temptations and compulsions of the Zardari of the 90s? That is the question!
Alas the Zardari of yore is staging a come-back. I hope I am wrong as I wish him well and long to see that the historic role that has fallen to his lot is played well by him, keeping an eye on the call of the Constitution, the demands of democracy and the expectations of the people. It is not easy to resist pressures emanating from a ruthless superpower which has helped PPP leadership return to power, nor to say no to an assertive and wily ex-general to whom he is beholden for his new-born freedom. Can he afford to ignore an obliging judiciary which has cleared his way to capture (if he so decides to) primeministership, by jumping into the national assembly?
It is fascinating how he is manoeuvring to escape from his commitment to restore CJS Iftikhar Chaudhry. Powerfully placed as he is, he is beginning to resort to all sorts of tactics and antics. He can blurt out all sorts of bizarre statements like saying that in the guise of the lawyers’ movement, it is the judges who are striving to get back their jobs, that the countdown for the Murree Accord deadline will begin when all the 5 governments are fully in place and to cap it all, the Murree Accord was nothing more than ‘a political statement”.
It is interesting to watch how he tried to hoodwink his allies and hesitated not, to suddenly fly away to Dubai. When in hot pursuit PML(N) follows him and put pressure on him to come to an agreed basis for the implementation of the Murree agreement he eloquently put forward all kinds of arguments to delay the reaching of a clear decision. When Shahbaz Sharif failed in his mission, brother Mian Nawaz Sharif rushed to Dubai to pin Zardari down to honouring his earlier pledges.
Till the writing of this column, it is not known as to how some sort of understanding has been reached to accommodate the major considerations and demands of the two parties. Granted that Zardari fears that Justice Chaudhry might reopen the validity of NRO. As a national leader however he has to accept his return to office. Combining other measures for trimming the CJ’s authority with the question of restoration of the judges may appear to him to be a desirable strategy. It will however create doubts in the minds of lawyers and the civil society about the adequacy of the independence of the judiciary.
A word about the dilemma Zardari faces about his own conduct. Can we say that by his deeds, he will make every effort to wash off the taint that has stuck to his name, all these years. Of course he has many impressive qualities. He has the gift of the gab. He can make friends and keep them. He has suffered long and learnt a lot. But how much has he unlearnt? I wish I could convince him that he can emerge as a truly great leader if he honours peoples’ verdict, resolves to undo the colossal damage done by the dictator to the cause of Pakistan, to national institutions, national integration and democracy. He has, indeed, a rare opportunity to rebuild the judiciary, restore the majesty of the parliament and take steps to alleviate the suffering of the people.
Perhaps all this is wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps the old Zardari is already back. Rise above personal considerations, Mr Zardari. Rise to meet the nation’s hopes. Do not be a part of the forces of darkness. Well has it been said: what good is it if one wins the whole world but loses his soul. In your case it will not only be your personal loss, it will also be letting down the people and the country.
The writer is ex-federal secretary & ambassador
Source: The Nation, 3/5/2008