A reversal of fortune —Mahmud Sipra

What kind of a president does Zardari want to be: a politician who achieved the highest office of the land through guile and circumstance and allows himself to be consumed by the perks of power; or a man who fate placed in a position where he could take destiny by the throat and soar above all as a statesman?

In Asif Zardari — the man who would be President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan — the people of Pakistan have finally achieved all they could have ever hoped for.

Those that had a deep-seated hatred for anyone wearing a uniform and had their name prefixed with ‘General’ can now say that there will be a legitimately elected representative of the people occupying the Presidency.

Those that wanted a squeaky clean individual as their President will now have one. Thanks to that wonderful new dry cleaning process called the NRO. Don’t blame Mr Zardari for that, blame General Musharraf.

Mr Zardari has proven beyond doubt that he is a “doston ka dost”. It’s just that no one realised what great friends he and President Musharraf really were. We all could do with a friend who said: “Never mind the millions. Still better, you can keep the millions! Sorry about all those terrible things I’ve been saying about you. Here, I’m going to allow you to be prime minister…as a bonus you can even have your own Speaker in the National Assembly. What? You are still not happy?”

His magnanimity is greeted with a silent grin that seems to say: “Go on…I’m listening.”

“Oh, I know. You want to appoint your own man in Washington and to the Court of St James, right? Okay.”

More sullen silence.

“What is the matter with you? You still look unhappy. You want to appoint your own Governor? Deal! You can appoint your own Governor in the Punjab. How is that? But you will have to deal with that Coalition partner of yours. This is not going to go down well with him.

“There is something that I want you to do for me in return. There is this little matter of ‘restoring the judges’. That Barrister has become the bane of my life. Nothing seems to deter him and now he’s got Punjab’s Hercules wanting the same thing. Between you, me and the goalpost, my friend, if I were you, I wouldn’t want the old CJ back either. On this one, you are on your own.”

“I’m off to Dubai. I will let you know when I get back.”

“Oh. All right. What’s this with your wanting to go to Dubai all the time? Am I missing something here?”

Mr Zardari gives him a grin, and as he drives to the airport to catch a plane to Dubai, the grin doesn’t seem to go away.

On his return a few days later, Mr Musharraf finds out rather quickly what Mr Zardari and his Coalition partners have in mind for him. Being the officer and gentleman that he is, he decides, like another general in another time, “to fade away”.

Meanwhile, in a TV interview a few days later, Mr Sharif of Raiwind takes the moral high ground on all matters, from the restoration of the judges to neutering the presidency as it stands today before his now former best friend Zardari assumes that lofty office and takes over where Mr Musharraf left off — as president and supreme commander of the armed forces.

Mr Sharif — and not without some justification — is adamant that the presidency should be de-fanged and the power to dissolve assemblies be taken away, a move that Zardari’s PPP may now not be in any great hurry to implement.

The duality of the country’s power structure is something that has dogged lawmakers, critics, commentators and Pakistan watchers alike: Either the country is a parliamentary democracy or it isn’t. If it is then the presidency should revert to its ceremonial status with the Constitution reigning supreme and the office of the prime minister becoming the fountainhead of all executive power.

Under the present system, despite all claims to the contrary, it is and remains a presidential system. Power, pomp and circumstance all are embodied in the heady nectar that makes up the Imperial Presidency. No one, not even Mr Zadari’s detractors — and there are many — will be able to fault him if his first executive act on assuming this august office will be to restore all power to the office of the prime minister.

Mr Zardari will have some very hard personal choices to make. What kind of a president does he want to be: a politician who achieved the highest office of the land through guile and circumstance and allows himself to be consumed by the perks of power; or a man who fate placed in a position where he could take destiny by the throat and soar above all as a statesman?

As the first president born post-Independence, Mr Zardari will carry the burden of history of his predecessors. He would have to find his inner strength to reach out and hold fast to what men who guide the destinies of the world call the moral compass. Lest he too be perceived in time not as a man with a sense of history but as a mere footnote.

Above all, Mr Zardari will have to decide whether he is to be a president of just the People’s Party or the President of the people of Pakistan.

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at sipraindubai@yahoo.com

Source: Daily times, 4th/Sep/2008

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