Asif Ali Zardari - I Support Thou!
Gossip circles of the power centers of Pakistan are ripe with the buzz of a "minus-one" formula aimed at removing President Asif Ali Zardari from country's political map. This might be a wishful desire on part of the regressive circles that have dominated this nation for decades and are responsible for most of its miseries in economic and geo-political realm. From where I see, there is no reason to remove Mr. Zardari. More so, despite the wishes of many to get rid of the widower of Benazir Bhutto, there is no way he could be removed from the presidency or political scene. And if at all, the vultures succeed in removing him, the repercussions for the nation and our social order will be nothing short of a fiasco.
So let us look at the reasons first. Some junk polls, published by some US think tanks are continuously trying to build an impression that Zardari is an unpopular figure. Now to the best of my knowledge, US agencies do not conduct these surveys themselves but outsource them to local agencies. Also, the only two local agencies famous for conducting opinion polls in Pakistan are owned/ managed by people known for their association with Jamat-i-Islami and General Zia Ul Haq. If this was not enough, the opinion polls world over have proven to be biased. I will just give two instances, in India the BJP in last two elections performed a lot worse than what was predicted by opinion polls mainly because the poll conducting urban educated classes have traditionally been BJP supporters and thus bias skewed the results. Secondly, in every US Presidential Election, the polls conducted by liberal and conservative media outlets in almost the same time frame are more favorable for Democratic and Republican Parties respectively. There is a whole range of biases ranging from deliberate bias, to sample bias, to question-crafting, to respondent bias (where some classes of people are more willing to share their opinion than another) which makes opinion polls a totally unreliable source to gauge public opinion. Also, what I cannot understand is how come Nawaz Sharif's popularity is continuously hovering around 80% when the guy could not find candidates to field anywhere outside a few districts of Punjab. The US agencies conducting the opinion polls must realize that in their ignorance they are alienating a vast majority of Pakistanis which voted for PPP and comprise country's heartland. They term these polls as US’s attempts to sabotage the public mandate. Whether right or wrong, Pakistanis’ discontent for US mainly stems from alleged US role in ouster of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s democratic government by Gen. Zia Ul Haq. The tool to gauge public opinion is elections and if Zardari is unpopular, he and his party will be rooted out in next elections. Even at an approval rating of 19%, no one asked Bush to resign or considered minus-Bush formula for this is one of the fundamental principles of democracy to allow a winner to complete his term.
Second reason given for minus-one is tales of massive corruption. In all honesty, all the stories of corruption filed by Mr. Kamran Khan (renowned for his MI connections in the past and famous for a lollypop interview with Gen. Pervez Musharraf (after March 9, 2007), in a desperate attempt to allow Mr. Musharraf to restore his lost credibility at a time when the guy was on his way out) do not have any substantiation of how corruption took place. It is the same Kamran Khan, who was behind corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari during 1993-96 government of PPP and needless to say despite repeated attempts by governments and courts bound on crushing PPP and Bhuttos none of them was proved in the court of law. More than half of the allegations are based on speculation about the decisions that have yet not been taken. The remaining are based on logic that some decisions are taken which could not have been taken without corrupt motives without proving how corruption actually took place and without the evidence of who benefitted. Even if the corruption took place, all the Ministers concerned have been quick to own decisions themselves, so the buck stops there and does not go to Mr. Zardari. Also, it is Mr. Gillani who is head of executive and has the responsibility for the executive decision making. If Mr. Gillani had found it hard to resist the alleged demands of corruption by the President, he should have resigned and if he has not he, being an upright and principled man that he is, is taking the full responsibility of the decisions. This is further reflected by Mr. Gillani’s statement on Rental Power Projects published in today’s newspapers. It was Shaukat Aziz who was threatened legal action on reversal of Privitization of Steel Mills and not Mr. Musharraf. So dragging Mr. Zardari in corruption allegations is vicious to say the least. Lastly, Public Accounts Committee is headed by Leader of the Opposition Ch. Nisar Ali Khan (from whom I am awaiting a resolution for trial of Musharraf under Article-6 in National Assembly) and Supreme Court is headed by the Chief Justice known for his record of taking sue motto notices in public interest. If there are any allegations, rather than trumping the drum on media outlets, they should be brought to any of these relevant forums and proven there.
Third possible reason could have been poor governance. Again, even under the present constitution, governance falls in the domain of the Executive and not the Presidency. On that account, the executive headed by P.M. Gillani deserves full credit for damage control and correction to the mess it inherited. To his credit, President Zardari has been a great help in both war against extremism and raising international assistance for a collapsed economy. Even his worst opponents acknowledge (though in their own sinister fashion) that Mr. Zardari has turned the tide of public opinion against Taliban in a short period through his political acumen. This public support has ultimately allowed Army to fight the biggest threat to Pakistan's and Army's existence in decades.
Another reason could be Mr. Zardari's soft stance on India which many in the defense establishment see as a direct threat to their hegemony. First and foremost, when Mr. Zardari talks about mending differences with India, it is not a thought he shares alone. Mr. Sharif, Mr. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto followed the same policy and they did this because it is the inevitable that has to happen. Post bipolar world, the state of Pakistan cannot sustain a continuing confrontation with her neighbors. We only have two options, either to amicably resolve our differences with India or get ready to be sucked by the conflict all together. More importantly, to his credit, Mr. Zardari's vision is to have a common market of Pakistan, China and India ultimately extended to SAARC, Central Asia and Turkey. Even if India and China find it hard to join hands, we can benefit from having separate free trade agreements with both nations. Any of these arrangements, putting Pakistan part of an economic setup comprising half of global population, are only likely to benefit Pakistanis and are going to enhance influence of Pakistan and Pakistani institutions globally. Also, isolation and confrontationist attitude in the region with the most extensive economic activity in the world is simply not sustainable and will turn us into a pariah state. I can see two elements which might be afraid of this regional bloc, apart from some skeptics in our defense establishment. One will be the industrial classes (not all but those who benefit from the system of perks and permits) of Pakistan (whose reflection we have seen in sugar mafia) who have benefitted a great deal in the protectionist economy comprising a culture of permits and perks. It is natural for them to fear competition. Second are our Mid-Eastern neighbors, on whom we have been reliant on because of our years of international isolation till a few years back. Mid-Eastern monarchies also fear a progressing, democratic Pakistan for her potential to destroy the hegemonic autocratic regimes in their own countries through her example. So if there are any elements in our defense establishment who want to get rid of Zardari on the hope that this will end the process of mending fences with India, they need to undergo a serious reality check for the time for more cordial relations with India has come and any resistance to this effort will only put the existence of our nation state in turmoil and danger. I am sure Pakistan Army under General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani has learnt her lessons and is not ready to fall prey to conspiracy to drag her and Pakistan into a mess which she would not be able to resolve. For our defense establishment in particular, the time has come to discard “a world view” with a more dynamic approach aimed at readiness to deal with any unfolding of events.
Another section that might want to get rid of Asif Zardari might be the one afraid of findings of investigation into Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Every time there has been a development on the UN investigations, coincidently the country has been dragged into a crisis. Be it the resignation of PML-N from cabinet, or load-shedding riots in Punjab, or long march, or the decision against November 3 acts of Musharraf, or now the talk of minus-one formula, all of them have somehow coincided with developments in UN investigation. And now when the findings are likely to be published in a few months, the pressure is at its peak. Coincidently, every time, it has been PML-N that has been behind the chaos. I strongly believe that for a strong system, PML-N must remain part of the system and so my advice to Mian Sahab is to watch his ranks closely. Till now vast majority of people of Pakistan and PPP supporters consider General Musharraf responsible for the killing of Benazir Bhutto, with the above-mentioned concern growing in the ranks of PPP, coupled with the fact that Mian Sahab turned out to be the biggest political beneficiary of the killing, I fear the day when the gossip might be in air on Mian Sahab or his party’s role in the unfortunate incident. It is in the best interest of us all to avoid that and Mian Sahab holds the key.
Just when there is no reason for minus-Zardari at this stage, it seems impractical to oust Mr. Zardari as well. Parliament can impeach Mr. Zardari by 2/3rd majority. As of now, PPP has 155 of 442 members of parliament. This alone is sufficient to foil any impeachment move. If anyone thinks that there can be a major coup in PPP against widower of Benazir Bhutto and father of the party chairperson Bilawal Zardari, having full backing of the only living daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, I pray for sanity to him. If Leghari in presidency and PPP-Patriot Ministers with most lucrative of portfolios could not break PPP at a time when Benazir was in exile, then it seems unlikely that this will happen at a time when the man himself sits in Presidency. Also, knowing Mr. Gillani, he is not likely to be Farooq Laghari and will prefer resigning himself rather than backstabbing Zardari. Also, presently, it seems unlikely that ANP or MQM will go against Mr. Zardari in any such move.
Another way is to disqualify Mr. Zardari through courts. If this happens, keeping in view courts favorible attitude towards PML-N and her inability to move against Musharraf, this will be seen as an act of vendetta. This will revoke the memory of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's hanging among the supporters of PPP across the country and it will be very difficult for PPP leadership not to launch an allout assault on courts. Also, these are the same courts which tried Mr. Zardari for 12 years without a single conviction. If they could not find anything against him in 12 years, what moral authority they have to oppose NRO. Not only that, in most of his cases, Mr. Zardari been acquitted outside the gambit of NRO. So, even in case the decision gets over-turned on NRO, it is unlikely to remove Mr. Zardari on these grounds.
An Army coup against Mr. Zardari at this stage is not likely either. First, Army has hardly regained the repute she lost for her last misadventure. If she marches again on Islamabad, the resentment all across the country especially in Sindh and Balochistan will be hard to curtail and will lead to events which might become totally uncontrollable. Same goes for an attempt to get Mr. Zardari's resignation on gun point.
A repeat of March 15, 2009 is another way of getting rid of Mr. Zardari. An agitation in few distrcits of Punjab leading to ouster of Mr. Zardari will not go down well with Sindh and Saraiki areas as well as ranks and files of PPP across the country and the consequences for the state will be unthinkable. In Sindh, less than 2 years after the assassination of Ms. Bhutto this can cause havoc. So most likely, any such misadventure this time is likely to result in the much-feared balkanization of Pakistan. On March 15th, Mr. Zardari compromised just when he could have gone on to escalate the confrontation and the powers that be fully know this. It might be unjust to accept him to show the same restraint again.
Since the forces aiming at getting rid of Zardari seem so adament, they might try to bring him down by killing one of his prominent opponents. If this happens, it will be most unfortunate, for then it would be the State of Pakistan and not Mr. Zardari which would be at stake. For Mr. Zardari, Pakistan Army and Govt. of Pakistan, this should be the matter of utmost consideration. For those of us, who hate Zardari, ask yourselves one question to yourself, before being sucked in by any such conspiracy by forces who want to balkanize Pakistan, do you hate Zardari more than you want Pakistan? I leave the rest to your sane judgement. As for his political opponents, if they find this assertion credible, it is a food for thought for them as well.
If, at all, the forces bound on getting rid of Mr. Zardari succeed, the consequence for Pakistan and all of us will be disastrous. Taliban are down but not out. If given any opportunity, which they are definitely likely to get in case of derailing of present setup, they are likely to regroup and launch an all out assault on the State of Pakistan. Also, even if my fears of uprising in smaller provinces prove wrong, just because of the menace of Taliban and Militancy that we have created, anyone who is likely to come is not going to last even a few months. I say this for the following reasons. One, the process of removal of Mr. Zardari will at least make the country fragile if not completely crippled. And Secondly, any alternative to PPP lacks the vision to understand the nature and scope of the problem of Militancy. If you do not believe me, to guage PML-N's ability, just look at the statements of PML-N leadership between April 15th and May 15th on Taliban and you will find an overnight shift in their stance based on no rational thinking but swing in public opinion. And for Pakistan Army, Army could not have moved an inch in this battle without the political support that was provided to it both internally and internationally by the present setup. Lastly, majority of urban educated Pakistanis and our right-wing political classes do not fully realize that we, right now, are at a fore-front of a great game. On one side is the present global order, represented by US and on the other side is a faceless element bound on destroying everything. The other side does not have the courage to reveal its identity and its anonymity can be gauged by the mere fact that its trumpets hail Taliban for fighting Imperial US before labeling them agents of US before once again condemning US for killing them through drone attacks.
Co-chairperson Zardari, they try to create the impression that you have no following among PPP ranks and files. They tried to create the same impression when Ms. Bhutto got the reins of the party after Mr. Bhutto. They tried to create the same impression after the death of Murtaza Bhutto. Being a sympathizer and supporter of PPP, I believe, I speak on behalf of all of us (with exception of some elitist Kishwar Naheeds) that we thank you for what you have done for the party and country at a time when the murderers of Benazir Bhutto thought that they had destroyed the party and the country beyond repair. We thank you for leading the nation into the last bout against Musharraf Dictatorship and through the crises the nation faced and is facing. We expect you to deliver on your commitment to the nation and We Support THOU!