Asif Ali Zardari had declared sometime back that a jiyala, the colourful Urdu name given to the devoted PPP worker, would be installed in the presidency. True to his word, he has done that but it turns out that the jiyala he had in mind to occupy the exalted office of president of Pakistan was none other but Mr Zardari himself. Why give it to others even if there were better and senior jiyalas when the coveted job was his for the asking?
Pakistan now has a jiyala president in the true sense because Mr Zardari has yet to give up his position as co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party. He has shown no intention to do so and some of his supporters are arguing that he isn’t required under the Constitution to do so. The same argument is made while defending his right not to declare his assets before settling in as the 12th president of Pakistan. The country’s much-amended and truncated Constitution may not bound him to quit his party or declare his assets but democratic norms and issues of morality would be best served if he did so.
A politically neutral and morally honest President is what the country needs at this critical juncture. This is even more important in case of President Zardari owing to his tainted past and in view of the serious corruption charges that haunted him all these years.
It is not that resignation from the post of PPP co-chairman or declaration of assets would mean much in practical terms. Mr Zardari would continue to lead the PPP even if he stepped down as the party head. The only difference would be that earlier he was calling the shots from the Zardari House and now he would do so from the presidency. In Pakistan’s family-run political parties, it would be unimaginable to have a PPP sans Bhuttos, now bonded with Zardaris, or a PML-N without Nawaz Sharif and his household. In the event of President Zardari deciding to quit as party leader, there would be a figurehead co-chairman answerable to Mr Zardari.
The declaration of assets also doesn’t amount to anything tangible. Preparing the needed paperwork is an art made to perfection in Pakistan and any number of hangers-on would be ready to file papers detailing President Zardari’s assets in a manner that would withstand scrutiny. A case in point is former President General (r) Pervez Musharraf’s assets, which he voluntarily made public to much applause by his supporters in 1999 before taking up his job as the innovatively-named chief executive of Pakistan. How many of us can remember the value of his assets at that time and has there been any appreciable increase in his wealth since then? Also, is there a way that President Musharraf’s present assets at home and abroad could be evaluated? Besides, can he be made accountable in case he possesses assets far beyond his known means of income during the more than eight years of his absolute rule? All these are academic issues which don’t amount to anything when viewed in context of the harsh realities of life in Pakistan.
President Zardari’s election has completed the democratic process that began with the February 18 general elections. After General Musharraf’s unconventional methods devised by scheming advisers and lawyers and backed by the military to impose himself on the people of Pakistan as their president, it was a relief that Mr Zardari was elected as the rightful occupant of the presidency in accordance with constitutional requirements. He was voted as president in a proper democratic contest in which majority of legislators from his native Sindh and the two other smaller provinces, NWFP and Balochistan, gave him their support. He won by a decisive margin in the National Assembly and the Senate and the number of his votes in the Punjab Assembly was substantial even though he lost to PML-N candidate Justice (r) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. It augurs well for the federation of Pakistan that a Sindhi of Baloch origin has been elected president at a time when Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani and Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani belong to Punjab.
As was the case during the long Musharraf rule, NWFP has again failed to get any major power-wielding position in the government because National Assembly speaker Dr Fahmida Mirza and Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro also belong to Sindh. As Pakistan’s most turbulent province, the Frontier ought to be compensated both in terms of its share in the power corridors of Islamabad and in receiving special funds for the human and material losses suffered by it due to the fallout of the Afghan war and the ongoing military operations, militancy-linked violence and unilateral cross-border US military strikes. The sense of alienation being felt by the people of NWFP must be controlled before it turns into despair. Rest of Pakistan and the civil and military rulers in Islamabad have to show more sensitivity to the concerns of Frontier citizens, who wonder why Pakistan’s armed forces haven’t taken steps to defend them against military operations conducted by the US military in the tribal areas and nobody in the government condoles with the families who lose members in such attacks.
Another grievance is the inadequate concern by the government and fellow Pakistanis to the plight of almost 300,000 people displaced due to military operations and militants’ activities in Bajaur and those made to suffer in Swat, Waziristan, Darra Adamkhel and elsewhere in the province. President Zardari would be expected to heal the wounds not only in NWFP and FATA but also in Balochistan. He has to take the initiative to put our house in order so that outside forces are unable to exploit the situation. He has shown the capability of taking along with him politicians who have a different outlook and agenda. His alliance with the ANP, the JUI-F and the MQM is intact, for the time-being at least, and though it looks improbable he still hasn’t given up hope of reconciling with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.
Admirably, Mr Zardari conceded his shortcomings and apologized to Nawaz Sharif for being unable to fulfill his verbal and written commitments to him regarding reinstatement of the superior courts’ judges. Admitting one’s mistakes is a good trait, though there is a feeling that Mr Zardari uses this to achieve his desired goals at the expense of others.
Already short of credibility, he risks losing trust of more Pakistanis if he doesn’t give up as promised the powers that General Musharraf grabbed as president on account of his powerful, gun-wielding position as army chief. He must undo the 17th Amendment in the Constitution and return to the prime minister the executive powers that should belong to the head of the federal government and not the president in a parliamentary form of government.
By not restoring deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whose defiance of General Musharraf triggered the lawyers’ and civil society movement that immensely benefited Mr Zardari’s PPP and other political parties, the president would be unable to win the goodwill and support of a large number of Pakistanis seeking rule of law and independent judiciary. Unconditional restoration of the pre-emergency judiciary would convince the people of Pakistan that President Zardari can rise above his person and keep aside his party’s interest and do something for the collective good of the country and its institutions.
There is no harm in saying that President Zardari’s performance at his first press conference was poor. His answers lacked substance and the vision that one wishes in someone catapulted to the office of president was missing. It makes one think that Mr Zardari is a lightweight for the onerous responsibility that he has taken upon himself. It was a mistake on his part to invite, apparently without consulting anyone, the controversial Afghan President Hamid Karzai to his oath-taking ceremony when no other world leader was invited. It was an even bigger mistake to make Mr Karzai sit at his press conference. It was President Zardari’s show and he should have used it to spell out his vision and aspirations for Pakistan and reassure his worried citizens that their country was in safe hands.
By failing to condemn the unilateral US military operations in Pakistani territory, he missed an opportunity to represent the opinion of most Pakistanis even though the parliament had already expressed it through a strongly-worded resolution and General Kayani did so in even stronger words subsequently. Perhaps President Zardari would get some on-the-job training and do better as he settles down in office.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai @yahoo.com
Source: The News, 13/9/2008