Good and bad news for Zardari

By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: Three extraordinary developments on the eve of the filing of nomination papers by presidential candidates brought mixed feelings of happiness and anguish to Asif Ali Zardari.

Their timing is highly significant and it leaves no doubt that all the three developments coincided with the filing of nomination papers by Zardari on Tuesday and were meant to achieve different objectives by their sponsors.

This also showed the interest and involvement of important local and international players in Pakistan’s presidential election because of the importance that the country enjoys for them. Foreign powers keep closely monitoring the significant activities like the election of the new head of state, resignation of Pervez Musharraf, elevation of someone as prime minister, etc.

The first news — the withdrawal of money laundering charges against Zardari by a Geneva prosecutor a day before the deadline of the filing of the nomination papers — thrilled the PPP co-chairman as he got himself disentangled from a decade-old case, which continued to cast a shadow on his career.

Only last week, a leading US magazine reported that the money laundering case against Zardari was still intact. Many in Pakistan had believed that it stood knocked down, courtesy the widely despised National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the then-president Pervez Musharraf on Oct 5, 2007, a day before his election as president.

Withdrawal of the charges against Zardari by the Swiss prosecutor from the court has not come out of the blue. It is generally believed that international player(s) worked to give a clean chit to Zardari so that his election as the president of Pakistan is not coloured from day one.

While Zardari had not fully rejoiced his exoneration from the Swiss net, London’s Financial Times dropped a bombshell by reporting that the leading contender for the presidency is “suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors… was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses, including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years. Stephen Reich, a New York state-based psychologist, said Zardari was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide. Philip Saltiel, a New York city-based psychiatrist, said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems.

“I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” Saltiel wrote. The second shocking news for Zardari came when the New York Times reported that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorised contacts with Zardari.

According to the report, Khalilzad had spoken by telephone to Zardari several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorised contacts, a senior US official said.

Other officials said Khalilzad had planned to meet Zardari privately next Tuesday while on vacation in Dubai, in a session that was cancelled only after Richard A Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, learned from Zardari himself that the ambassador was providing “advice and help”.

“Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?” Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel (sic)?” Despite all these shocking news, Zardari was said to be completely normal and taking these stories in his stride, as circles close to him said his sacrifices and the torture and physical abuse he faced in jails had not broken his will though he may have suffered temporary damage to his body from these traumatic experiences.

Source: The News, 27/8/2008

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