Our next president-by Ikram Sehgal


The PPP’s nomination of Asif Zardari as their presidential candidate should have been no surprise; the numbers made the election a done thing! The PML-N had enough reason to finally walk out of the coalition when the superior judiciary was not restored and nominate a non-controversial, non-party person of stature, Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui as their candidate. PML-Q’s nominee, my good friend Mushahid Hussain qualifies on all counts[k1] and would make a great president. Given the permutations and combinations thereof I assume he will eventually sit this one out as PML-Q gravitates naturally towards merging with PML-N, giving Justice Siddiqui their support.

The topsy-turvy turnaround must represent the most amazing 250 days in Pakistan’s already chequered political history. Kept outside the political loop (and outside the country to avoid controversies) by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto till her tragic assassination on December 27, 2007, Zardari took over a political party deep in shock and mired in confusion. Instead of standing around breast-beating his wife’s brutal murder, he transformed the tears of her party workers, with a little bit of manipulation, into political capital for the PPP, and smiling all the way, more importantly for himself. A virtuoso performance!

Asif Zardari played the reconciliation card to perfection, trusting Mian Nawaz Sharif, easily the most popular leader after the Mohtarma’s death, was taken almost to the political cleaners. Zardari did not spend long years in jail for nothing, eight years count for something. Patience and resilience have made him into quite an actor, a prime requisite for any successful politician. Did he really expect Mian Sahib to fall for his contrite performance on prime time TV scant hours after the coalition collapsed?

Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s guideline says a leader must stand the test of accountability, “a real leader is a man of integrity. Integrity has many connotations but taken in a broad sense, it means reliability,” unquote. While agreements between political parties do fall through because of changing circumstances, by repeatedly reneging on written agreements with PML-N Zardari crossed a fail-safe line about the veracity of his solemn word. Future commitments by him will be viewed with suspicion, undercutting the reliability factor. Justice Siddiqui outscores him in public perception.

Asghar Khan’s description of leadership, “that quality which inspires others to follow”. Asif Zardari displayed outstanding leadership in husbanding (no-pun) his party into governance in the centre and Sindh, and then keeping the PML-N off the PPP’s back until well entrenched in government. Zardari has another quality that marks him as no ordinary leader – decisiveness. To quote Asghar Khan in his book, My Political Struggle, “the greater the sphere of influence or authority, the greater the need for this important quality”. This should serve Zardari (and the country) well if he (or his sister) become president.

Nobody can run a political party or the federal government by remote control, an efficient and effective team of aides must advise and implement instructions. What Zardari achieved politically is brilliant but mainly by personal manipulation. Good governance of a country requires constant measured ability. The present performance of the PPP government is dismal; to raise its level he will have to go outside his immediate circle. The venerable Air Marshal says, “a talented person, a man of virtue and a man of ability and knowledge, will generally choose subordinates who posses in some degree the qualities that he himself values, whereas an incompetent person, or one devoid of integrity will generally surround himself with people who are equally incompetent or dishonest”, unquote. A number of his close aides installed in critical slots in the country’s governance are controversial, beneficiaries of NRO their reputation for competence is only in the subject of corruption. A very close friend of his spent many years with him in the same jail cell and swears by his courage and fortitude, as a man with a conscience he now finds himself out in the cold. Asif Zardari obviously has no need for conscience in running governance.

Air Marshal Asghar Khan says: “Courage can be moral and/or physical, preferably both, it is admired by all human beings in varying degrees and both have a relationship with integrity”, unquote. Asif Zardari’s suffered his long incarceration with grace and good humour. Eyewitness account for nearly five years in jail found Zardari constantly motivating and encouraging others. He never bent to discomfort and even torture, never asking for relief. Justice Siddiqui similarly displayed great courage in not taking the oath under Musharraf’s first PCO. The PML-N (and others) have taken issue with Zardari on the subject of integrity, Justice Siddiqui scores on that count but will have a problem clarifying his role in the ouster of respective Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Expect the PPP propaganda machine to go into high gear through their paid media anchors.

Pervez Musharraf gifted the PPP the NRO, the blackest of black laws in Pakistan’s history, enabling Ms Benazir to come back into the political mainstream; guess who was the chief beneficiary? Turning his back on the former president only added to Zardari’s reputation for being ruthless in getting what he wants and callous once his purpose is achieved. Eric Hoffer said, “Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership”. The question is, to what degree is Zardari prepared to go? John P Grier said, “The biggest gap in the world is the gap between the justice of a cause and the motives of the people pushing it”. As Supreme Commander, the Pakistan Army, the ISI, and access to nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, will all be under his command. There are also questions about his close relationship with Afghan born US envoy to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad who is a known rabid Pakistan hater, with particular anger at the ISI that did not give him any time during the 80s Afghan war. To overcome their qualms Zardari will retire in favour of his sister and covering candidate, Faryal Talpur and not risk their measuring him with Asghar Khan’s desired qualities in a leader, which summed up the values of the Quaid, “Honesty and Character”. One would have to be deaf not to hear the large murmur in the ranks.

Will Zardari risk the declaration of his assets, a must for the presidential office? If he declares all his wealth, and the taxes on it paid inside and outside Pakistan, the question will arise how he accumulated all this wealth. Transferring of wealth by clandestine means can bring international charges of money-laundering. And if he does not declare all his assets, he will be subjected to intense scrutiny by the western media – and even investigators, the most lethal being the free-lance ones. The Financial Times has already unearthed something scathing about his mental health. While Asif Zardari exudes confidence in brazening this out, my guess is he will opt out. He will not risk it! Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui has no such albatross around his neck to contend with, on those counts alone, honesty and integrity, he will give Zardari a run for his money (no pun intended). In the crucial meeting on Aug 25, PML-N legislators forced Mian Nawaz Sharif to dump the deal with Zardari, not only because of foot-dragging on the judiciary but because of the “stigma” of voting for him. What happens with Talpur fronting and Zardari having the remote control? He can then tell the PML-N he sacrificed his own plan in the face of overwhelming support in order to save the Coalition and satisfied his brother Mian Nawaz Sharif.

September 6 (Defence of Pakistan Day) is sacrosanct for the armed forces, 43 years ago many soldiers, sailors and airmen sacrificed their lives for their country on this day. On this rather sacred day for the armed forces, one will watch with great interest the armed forces giving a guard of honour, with all the service chiefs in attendance and duly saluting, either President Talpur or President Siddiqui.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

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