Pakistan: Doing PhD on Zardari’s politics

Saeed QureshiJaved Hashmi the stalwart of Nawaz Muslim League made a very interesting remark on Asif Zardari’s style of politicking. He said that one needs to do a PhD for understanding Asif Zardari’s brand of politics. A cynic added that even after that the complete comprehension of Zardari’s political behaviour would remain a far cry and elusive. Asif Zardari who donned the mantle of chieftaincy of PPP is adept in blowing hot and cold at the same time. He keeps the people on tenterhooks and leaves the political pundits guessing about his next move. With mixed signals, he tries to keep all involved parties in good humor.


Giving him the benefit of doubt due to the overburdened mind resulting from the assassination of his spouse Benazir Bhutto as well as the family affairs, the fact has to be perceived that he vacillates, more often than not, between two contradictory or irreconcilable stances. He is for instance simultaneously sailing in two boats: one belonging to president Musharraf and the other to his inveterate opponents, one of whom is Nawaz Sharif. Now it needs quite a strong muscle to commit in writing in Murree to reinstate the judges and then reneges on that pledge by saying that he didn’t utter a Hadis (unchangeable saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)). Immediately after the PPP sailed into power, he publicly nominated Amin Fahim the Senior Vice Chairman of the party as the candidate for the post of the prime minister. Later he changed his mind and following a period of eerie lull he announced the name of Yusuf Raza Gilani for the prime ministerial slot. These days, it seems, Amin Fahim and Zardari are not even on talking terms with each other. Amin Fahim is nowhere seen in the party meetings. He did not do anything practically to restore the sacked judges but pays their salaries. He intends to reinstate them and also impeach president Musharraf by a lengthy procedure and after incorporating a plethora of constitutional amendments. One would doubt if the stipulated constitutional package also seeking the impeachment of the incumbent president would finally come through in the parliament. On the Judges’ protest day in Islamabad, he issued a statement from Saudi Arabia calling on his party workers to prepare for Musharraf’s impeachment but forgot about that when he returned to Pakistan. He showed his solidarity with the Judges but assigned the task of thwarting and hijacking their rally to the Interior Advisor Rehman Malik who did this job with consummate excellence.

To allay the oft repeated loud gossiping that he was covertly in league with Pervez Musharraf, he makes a fiery speech to announce that very soon the corridors of presidency would echo and reverberate with Jeya( long live) Bhutto slogans. It means that he was for the ouster of the president but would not spell out a definite or speedy way of doing it. He doesn’t harbour any qualms or compunctions to meet the strongest anti Musharraf political leader Nawaz Sharif but wouldn’t offer any specific road map to move against a highly unpopular president and pick up the thorny question of restoring the deposed judges. On one statement he gets approbation from people and rebuke from the president while in another he disgruntles the public and displeases the president. He has variously expressed his abiding commitment to the freedom of media but on the closure of certain programmes of Geo TV channel, the PPP governments as well as the party leaders including Mr. Zardari have been reticent and rather non-committal. He is not inconsistent but perhaps he has the knack of reacting and responding to the direction of the popular or political wave to diffuse a situation that could mount a challenge, become intractable or get out of hands. He, as the proverb goes, hunts with the hound and runs with the hare. He is in a position, neither to annoy Pervez Musharraf nor his distant and domestic mentors nor the people of Pakistan that voted his party in power. The self eviction of PML (N), the PPP”s coalition partner, from power sharing at the center was one crucial blow that should have impelled Zardari to side with and support the political forces instead of hob-nobbing with a collapsing head of state who should be more of a liability than an asset to a popular party like PPP. But in his heart of heart, Zardari knows that the prime motive of Muslim League (N) was to get their arch foe Pervez Musharraf thrown out of power with the help of PPP. In principle Zardari’s stance is right because the restoration of sacked judges on the strength of a simple executive order is not going to stem the rot that has plagued the judiciary in Pakistan right from the beginning. He would make the judiciary independent but not as much independent as to work at the behest of the power hungry rulers, side with dictators and fix the political opponents on their sweet will. At the same time he wants to clip the absolutism of the heads of state that sneak into power through a military coup or otherwise.

He is very well aware that If he as per wishes of Nawaz League and other parties supports the restoration of judges through a simple executive order then he himself stands the risk of becoming the first victim of the sue mottos of the reinstated judges. The sue motto is a double edged sword. If the judges invoke these caveats with good intentions then they are boon for the nation, if not then they turn as a weapon of vendetta against the opponents of the judges and their mentors in politics and other fields. This is such an enigmatic situation that his blind cooperation with coalition partners can prove to be a self inflicting detriment. The survival is the foremost instinct of a human and all the more it is imperative in political battlefields. As such a self destructive course cannot be adopted even by a moron, let alone a jail hardened person with an exceptional business acumen. Zardari has fought his battle of survival with astonishing courage and resilience and at the end, has emerged as the one who is the most sought after leader and a veritable leading decision maker of the country’s affairs. His affiliation either with a drowning president or the other political parties has become an indispensable commodity. This is by any standard no mean victory.

Presently, he cannot muster a two-thirds majority for unhindered smooth sailing of the constitutional package in the both houses of the parliament. Till that time the president is safe and so the issue of reinstatement of the sacked judges under the PCO would remain stalled. The Nawaz Muslim League is not a party to the constitutional package strategy for restoration of judges and impeachment of president Musharraf. The Judges’ movement after their final show in Islamabad has lost its steam. The MQM chief Altaf Hussain has assured Zardari with unconditional support on his present policies with regard to judges and the president. The ANP too is lukewarm on these two issues and would presumably remain allied with PPP. It means the PPP led coalition with MQM and ANP would keep ruling at the Federal level. In that situation if Muslim League (N) and the APDM parties flex their muscles and mobilize the people in favor of judges and impeachment of Musharraf, then we shall see whether Zardari turns the tide in his favor or else goes down in the fight.

Source: Pakistan Observer, 25/6/2008

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