Prove us wrong! Ikram Sehgal

One reckoned that since Asif Ali Zardari would not risk declaring his assets, he would drop out of the race for the presidency in favour of his sister, Faryal Talpur. He proved us all wrong. The rather shocking surprise – an anomaly in our laws that allows the Head of State, the only holder of public office, not to declare his (or her) assets. For the record, Musharraf declared his assets every year, so did others before him. Given the stories about Zardari’s many medical reports rendered on oath in foreign courts, it may not be a matter of mental health or credibility any more; perjury is taken very seriously abroad. The president of Pakistan may be immune from prosecution within Pakistan, his person can be prosecuted by courts abroad. Putting himself “in the line of fire” (pun intended), running for the presidency is already an act of courage.

Democracy is alive and well in Pakistan, courtesy of the free and fair February 18 elections, will Pakistan remain alive and well is the real question? The intelligentsia have serious reservations about his candidacy, some are actually sick at the prospect of Zardari as president, the representatives our masses elected to parliament seem to think otherwise. Though not in overwhelming fashion, the people voted for the party of late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto into power. Needing time to consolidate that process during the transition period of 90 to 120 days, the PPP could only achieve this because of the superb display of politicking by their co-chairman. The second major party, PML-N was kept guessing and off balance. On the basis of loyalty to him (and him alone) his people were placed in critical slots, he simultaneously fended off a nascent revolt within the party from his late wife’s loyalists. All done with dexterity and deadly intent! Was this meticulously planned “the day after” December 27 with his wife still to be buried, according to Clausewitz first principle of war (and peace), the selection and maintenance of aim?

Candidates Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui and Mushahid Hussain Syed are men of good standing. Every CV has some blemish, “let him cast the first stone he who has not sinned”. Neither is any match for Zardari in political wheeling and dealing. Even if one of them steps down in the other’s favour and given that in a secret ballot some in the electoral college may be “conscientious objectors” and not toe the party line, Asif Zardari should still win by quite a hefty margin. Zardari has built up confidence internationally in circles that matter, in contrast to the storm in the US media the US administration is silent (and thereby by default supportive), thanks to the untiring efforts of Hussain Haqqani, a man for all seasons, and sometimes for all reasons! If the US props him up by pumping in money and stabilises our economy, this self-made billionaire will be successful in taking Pakistan out of the economic and political morass we find ourselves in, why should anyone have reason to complain?

President Zardari is a reality staring us in the face and the sooner we come to terms with it the better. Despair among the intelligentsia on this prospect notwithstanding, pragmatists learn to live with the inevitable. With the buck now (almost) firmly on his desk, consider the personal and professional obstacles Asif Zardari must face. Lacking the personality profile to remain a ceremonial president, can he stay aloof from the day-to-day running of the affairs of the party, or indeed of governance?

The first major challenge for the supreme commander will be the reservations of the armed forces. Having taken an oath to defend their country against all evils, their concern (and ours) should be the protection of the nation’s most closely guarded secret, our nuclear assets and the means to deliver them. As president, Zardari will be uniquely placed to exercise extraordinary control over our nuclear option and he will be no Rafiq Tarar. The uniformed seem to be fully satisfied that Zardari does not pose any national security threat. If not, Kayani will do well to re-read the clause about “disobedience of unlawful command” in the Manual of Pakistan Military Law (MPML) before he is reminded of that by his colleagues and subordinates. Duly egged on by the Indians (and one supposes the Israelis) the West has been trying their best to de-nuclearise us. Many still fear the worst, questioning why the US is comfortable with his candidacy despite his controversial credentials. The West has a history of compromising on principles to achieve their objectives. Gen Musharraf was no democrat and Bush did not even remember his name before 9/11, yet the US supported this trusted ally because it suited their strategic interests. One should take the positive route, and keep hoping that he will keep them off our backs. Do the right thing, Asif Zardari, and prove us wrong.

A major area of concern to the uniform will be what happens to the ISI. At the very least, there has been a concerted effort to emasculate its potential, at the worst to permanently put it out of business as a “rogue agency”. While some changes in hierarchy is the government’s prerogative and the political wing must be transferred to the IB, strong suspicions exist that attempts will be made to interfere with the role and functions of the ISI. Such a “civilian” coup was tried prior to the PM’s US visit, did Musharraf’s objections lead to his sudden ouster? And if the objections were from Kayani, what will happen to him? The ISI remains Pakistan’s sure guarantee that our external cordon of security is intact, rabid Pakistan-hater Zalmay Khalilzad’s “private” advisory role to Asif Zardari notwithstanding. Asif Ali Zardari should leave well enough alone and prove such extremely adverse and dangerous perceptions wrong.

Asif Zardari is a major beneficiary of NRO, that black law rescued him from accountability, what will Asif Zardari do about NAB? Call it by another name, the basic mechanics of accountability must remain. Unlike Zardari, Mian Sahib and family have a source of wealth through a well known business empire, it is an irony that they are now being targeted by NAB. This is a contradiction about NAB’s future, the PPP is willing to use NAB for political purposes even as some PPP leaders desperately want NAB to disappear to wipe out the evidence of their white-collar crimes. Asif Zardari should resolve this ambiguity and prove us wrong.

Running a presidential system with the full backing of parliament sanctioned by the democratic will of the people, Zardari will be a civilian dictator on the Cromwellian fashion. He will have a chance to show what military dictators always promise and initially put into effect but almost always compromise to elongate their stay in power, constant good governance with full impartial accountability. Having a major role in accountability, the media will have a good chance to evaluate the limits of its freedom, or otherwise.

If he does the right thing by the country, and by the face of it the army (in particular the army’s chief) is gambling on that, Asif Ali Zardari can prove all of us wrong!
The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email:

Source: The News, 4th September, 2008

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