Zardari given enough rope to hang himself
WASHINGTON: The one question that I am repeatedly asked by everyone, believing that I have been quite close to Asif Ali Zardari during his days of self-exile and forced expulsion from politics for many years, is how long he and his government will survive. It is hard to answer this very loaded and complex question almost on a daily basis, especially when people think everyone who comes to Washington from Pakistan knows something more than they do. So I have decided to pen down my answer. My considered opinion is that the present Zardari-led set-up will not last long as it has been structured on a wrong and distorted political premise as result of which the key players who have emerged as main power wielders were never in the picture, neither of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, which actually got the votes and won the seats in the February 18 elections, nor anyone else. And these new players have failed to establish their political legitimacy and moral authority through their actions after coming to power.
These power players do not have any political ideology, they do not believe in the established principles of democracy and parliamentary process enshrined in the constitution and most important of all, they do not have a following among the masses, which is necessary for any political government worth its name.
What has happened is that in extraordinary turbulent circumstances, the Zardari Group of the PPP has taken over the party, out-manoeuvring the others through opportunities created by circumstances followed up cleverly by a web of deceit, chicanery and in some specific cases simple lies and cheating. Taking full advantage, Zardari formed a group of his cronies who had nothing to do with the PPP or its politics for years. Who could imagine that Rehman Malik, Farooq Naek, Babar Awan, Salman Farooqi, Husain Haqqani, Hussain Haroon, Dr Asim, Dr Soomro, Riaz Laljee, Siraj Shamsuddin, Zulfikar Mirza, Agha Siraj Durrani and many other smaller but tainted friends and associates of Mr Zardari would suddenly take over every important position and start calling the shots?
The above statements may seem bold, and to some, outrageous, but each one of these statements can be substantiated with specific and undeniable examples and proof. Of course Zardari and his cronies will deny this, screaming from every rooftop that he is genuine and represents the people’s will. But does, or will, anyone believe him?
To begin with, in the chaos that followed Benazir’s death, Asif Ali Zardari took over the party (PPP), the government, the parliament, the presidency and the judiciary. That was some achievement but the way he did it angered friends and foes alike. That is why he has been grappling with an enormous trust deficit, both domestically and abroad.
Has any prime minister who was elected unanimously or a president who secured a two-thirds majority ever looked so insecure that he had to repeatedly use questionable tactics to get his way through? Why is it that despite such strong support in parliament, he is working overtime every day to keep and tighten his hold on those state institutions not yet under his thumb – like the ISI, the Pakistan Army and some parts of the media?
His attempt to take over the ISI were foiled but he was asking for too much, too early. But given his nature, he will try again to control not just the ISI, but will also try to stuff the superior courts with Jiyala judges loyal to him and, if he gets the chance for which he will try his best, he will try to stuff the top Army hierarchy with his loyal generals.
This is where Mr Zardari will be stopped. That point may come as quickly as he tries to grab power. So in a way his own survival is in his own hands. But knowing Mr Zardari, I can predict he cannot stop himself. The unfortunate fact is that he cannot fathom what the judges movement has done to the body politic of the country and he cannot imagine what transformation the media has brought in the thinking of every man and woman in the country. He still lives in the ‘90s and cannot come out of that syndrome.
Step by step he has dismantled every pillar that Benazir Bhutto had painstakingly tried to build to strengthen politicians vis-a-vis the generals. In the many years that he was in New York, I never heard him discuss the Charter of Democracy or why the powers of the president should be cut. He would always discuss either some business deal or how he had outclassed other politicians in petty whimsical games. He never talked about any vision of a grand politically stable and strong Pakistan.
The illusion that he has become stronger than General Musharraf thus cannot make him a visionary overnight. As I know him, he is capable only to use these powers for his personal survival and security. But when an all-powerful Musharraf made mistakes, none of his powers could rescue him. Zardari has started by committing blunders.
He has survived so far because people expected a change and had to give him time. The safe window of opportunity that had opened up with the PPP victory was his safety valve, but for how long? He started when everyone wanted to give him time. Instead of building on that reservoir of sympathy, support and hope he has gone back on every promise he made publicly.
The 10 biggest blunders that will ultimately take him down can be listed as follows, though the full list may be too long:
1. Failure to show any enthusiasm to track down Benazir’s killers. The mysterious and tragic apathy shown by him towards her assassination is a sore in every heart. The top PPP leadership every evening sits in cosy drawing rooms and speaks in derisory language about what he is doing and how.
2. Failure to support the judiciary sacked by Musharraf and adopting a hostile attitude towards Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. He lost the chance to build grand support.
3. Unnecessary and grossly counter-productive support shown for Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.
4. Failure to make any move towards repealing the 17th Amendment and strengthening parliament. In fact, he has taken the system to a super-presidential model with a prime minister now cribbing regularly about his lack of powers.
5. Betraying his political coalition partners by refusing to follow the Charter of Democracy and cheating them with false promises.
6. Opening himself and his party to blackmail by smaller coalition parties to an extent that the entire government has become a hostage, thus unable to take any major initiative.
7. Boasting about his capacity to get economic and financial aid from the so-called friends of Pakistan, making repeated visits to world capitals and finally, opting for the most damaging and least acceptable option of going to the IMF, thus admitting failure.
8. Keeping petty political bickering alive in Punjab through a nonsensical presence of Governor Salman Taseer, a Musharraf appointee.
9. Turning into a widely disliked person in Pakistan within months by letting Musharraf go scot-free and adopting all his sins and drawbacks.
10. Humiliating and then forcing loyal PPP leaders into submission.
No one is yet ready to destabilise the current political set-up and Mr Zardari has been given a rope, in fact a longish rope, obviously to hang himself with. What worries me is that he has not proved himself competent to rise to the occasion, has shown no urge or capacity to grow into the huge shoes that he so suddenly finds himself in and somehow he does not envision the broader canvas of politics and lives with all the fears and insecurities of the era of the ‘90s and his days of captivity. Thus he is using the rope with intense energy to tie himself up in knots and form a noose around his neck.
If all the above answer the question how long will he last, the next universal question everybody asks is: how will he be removed as he has all the numbers?
This is an easy question to answer. By his acts Mr Zardari has not endeared himself to anyone in the 10 months of his rule. The initial honeymoon with the PML-N apart, now his own party is on the brink of imploding. December 27 will be a crucial date. How and on what issue the party cracks up is moot, but pressure from the opposition, a wink from the right quarters and one major blunder by Zardari is all it will take. It took an all-powerful Musharraf not even a few weeks to go down; Zardari is just learning the tricks to survive. After all the humiliation, what are BB loyalists like Aitzaz Ahsan doing in the PPP?
Friday, December 26, 2008