President Zardari : An open declaration of war — now what?

An open declaration of war — now what?

Courtesy: The News

News analysis by Shaheen Sehbai

NAUDERO: Hearing President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday was a painful experience. All, including the diehard PPP jiyalas, were stunned. Their co-chairman had just declared war on every institution, without telling them who were the enemies, what they were doing and why. It was aptly described by a journalist on Facebook as Zardari’s “farewell address”.

It was an outburst of a beleaguered man who could not hold it any further, yet it was not impromptu. He thundered, made sarcastic digs, portrayed himself as the biggest victim (although just one year ago he was the biggest beneficiary, politically and financially), positioned himself as the ultimate fighter and launched the pre-emptive first strike after weeks and months of thinking. His words were very calculated and measured, prepared by speechwriters and advisers.

Unfortunately his words confirmed many conspiracy theories, which until now were considered and attacked as mere media speculation and uneducated guesses of some antagonists. For instance, he confirmed that there was a serious ongoing confrontation between him and the Pakistan Army and all attempts by the Generals to resolve the situation had failed. The recent meetings of top Generals with Zardari, PM Gilani and others can now be seen in this context. These meetings, it is now obvious, did not produce any positive outcome.

He also confirmed that his survival was at stake and it was the most important challenge he faced because he did not talk about any other burning political issue, the NRO, the SC judgment, the 17th amendment etc. included.

He confirmed that in his tunnel view, “democracy” meant “Zardari” and if he was nabbed through the judicial or legal process, democracy in Pakistan would be derailed. He confirmed that he was scared of the process now inching towards its logical end and it was in his best strategic interest to politicise the fight, energise his cadres, rally Sindhis as if there was a conspiracy to throw Sindh out of Pakistan and take the fight to the GHQ before the soldiers were asked by the courts to intervene.

He confirmed that there actually was a much bigger conspiracy against him and the entire strategy of targeting four media men, Geo and The News journalists including me, was nothing but a lame excuse to find scapegoats. When the leader could not hold his guns, he burst out and now all those who have been blaming the media, day in and day out, look no better than stupid buffoons.

He confirmed that he was about to be cornered not by the barrel of a gun but through the legal and judicial process, which he had successfully subverted for years during his incarceration. He never let any court give a verdict and when the Swiss court had reached that point, the NRO was signed. He now knows that the only option left is to go on an offensive. Obviously he has no defence.

But the key question is now that the president has declared war, what would the other players do? It was just 72 hours ago that Prime Minister Gilani had told dozens of media persons that there was no conspiracy against democracy going on and had even promised to admonish his cabinet ministers who were indulging in media bashing. Mr Gilani now looks like a man lost in the maze. A similar message was given by the Opposition elder Mian Nawaz Sharif 24 hours ago.

Will the Naudero attack stop the judges from proceeding on the path that they had chosen to restore credibility of the judicial system? Will the civil society and the establishment stop supporting the judges who were restored after a major upheaval in the country? Will the media now back off because the thunderous threats of gouging out the eyes, amputating the hands and breaking heads have now been officially authorised by the head of state?

Will the huge banners in Islamabad and Rawalpindi blaming some media men, including me, now be spread all over the country? Will Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira now start looking physically for journalists to beat them up after slandering them on every channel that he could get on?

These questions will wait answers but Zardari has taken the entire debate to a whole new level —- a battle for survival with the establishment, precisely the Pakistan Army led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. After all, against whom was the specific mention of “tenure posts” directed at if not the army chief?

The best response to this paranoid offensive would be for all others to ignore the rants and quietly and firmly continue the cleansing process, which has been started by the judiciary and take it to its logical end.

What should not be done is interference in the affairs of the institutions, including the presidency, but every one should be very careful and watch against misuse of any powers by any institution.

The situation also increases the responsibility of the other political parties and the seniors of the PPP to behave in a mature manner and take steps, which are needed to keep the democratic system going.

Mian Nawaz Sharif should quickly call a meeting of all political parties to consider the situation and evolve a political response. He should ask specific questions from Mr Zardari and PM Gilani about the conspiracies mentioned in the Naudero speech and make them public before the nation. A clash between the PPP and GHQ will have serious consequences for the entire political system, which must be avoided.

The Supreme Court should quickly release the detailed judgment of the NRO case so that the excuse of the government, a waiting game, to implement the SC judgment is no longer there and either action is taken or denied, with matching consequences.

The prime minister should immediately invite four other key men in the country —- President Zardari, General Kayani, Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry and Mian Nawaz Sharif —- for a session to thrash out issues, informally and privately.

If someone there adopts a stubborn and arrogant attitude, it would become clear who is threatening the system. There is no threat to democracy as such but democracy should not mean protecting thieves, plunderers and looters. Convicting them through due process of law would strengthen all institutions, which is badly needed. No threats or warnings should be taken seriously as they are mere shrieks of cornered people.

Monday, December 28, 2009


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