In the 1990s, who would have thought that Asif Ali Zardari, better known as Mr Ten Percent at the time, will in 2008 become President of Pakistan? When the lawyers’ movement started last year, who would have guessed that the biggest beneficiary of this struggle would be Mr Zardari, who at that time was comfortably living in the United States? Again, when in December last year, people mourned Benazir Bhutto’s death, who would have guessed that the person who will get the greatest political mileage out of it will be Mr Zardari? The party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is no longer in the Bhuttos’ hands, nor does its ideology today bear any resemblance to the vision of the founding father.
At the peak of the lawyers’ movement, a politically savvy friend of mine asked who in my view would be the ultimate beneficiary of it all as in his view those who struggle and fight for change don’t reap the benefits; the real benefits eventually accrue to some unexpected third party. He indeed was correct. It is not the lawyers, nor is it the PPP or the PML-N that have reaped the benefits of the political developments since last year; the beneficiary has been one individual: Asif Ali Zardari. Whether it is a result of shrewd political scheming or simple luck is debatable. What is very clear, however, is that there is a bumpy ride ahead where the opposition parties inside and outside Parliament (Tehrik-e-Insaf, Jamiat-e-Islami and the other parties that boycotted the elections) need to work together to exert a check on the PPP government if the public is not eventually to welcome another military coup.
The politics of Mr Zardari since having become the kingmaker after the February elections has been anything but clean. He has been surprisingly quick in losing public favour because unlike his predecessor, who pursued vested politics but at least had the guts to be blunt about his ambitions, Zardari says one thing and does another. He has repeatedly gone back on his verbal promises and written agreements with Nawaz Sharif on the issue of reinstatement of the judges. While making those commitments he knew he has no intention to abide by them yet he knowingly deceived PML-N at every stage while at the same time claiming his commitment to building coalition of political parties against the establishment. He claims to have a policy of independence from the US yet follows precisely the same dictates as followed by Gen (r) Musharraf: the heightened military operations in the NWFP being one example. It won’t be long before the PPP will be meddling in Punjab to weaken the PML-N government.
The first problem with it is, of course, the most immediate one: there is little hope of genuine reforms or pro-poor development in the next five years if this government is to survive. The performance of the PPP is disappointing not solely because it is opposed to bringing fundamental institutional reforms like ensuring independence of judiciary by reinstating the deposed judges, but equally because of its utter disregard for the need to deliver on the development front. Six months down the line, there are no development schemes being out rolled, no big education sector reforms are on the horizon, and no poverty alleviation measures are being deliberated. A government, which is so disinterested, in addressing people’s concern in the first six months of being in power is unlikely to suddenly become pro-poor.
These problems are serious enough as no one wants to have another five wasted years to follow on from the last nine wasted years of the Musharraf regime. Yet, the real problem rests somewhere else, which is that Zardari’s style, politics of outright deception, is fast eroding people’s newly-found trust in the politicians. The result is that another few years of this government will brilliantly pave the way for another military coup where the ordinary public will yet again welcome an unconstitutional move by the military to topple an elected government. This is the biggest damage that Zardari and the current PPP leadership is doing to the cause of democracy in Pakistan.
It is vital that the senior leadership within PPP generates an internal debate within the party that pressurize Mr Zardari to review his political strategy as well as his ambitions. More important, however, is that PML(N) develops a strategy effectively lead all those forces that are opposing the Zardari style politics within the parliament as well as outside of it. If the public is not to entirely lose faith in the politicians then it is critical that Nawaz Sharif and the senior PML-N leadership continues to play the politics of principles as it has been doing so far. This is critical if Pakistani public is to be prevented from welcoming yet another military dictator.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News, 12/9/2008