Archive for August, 2008

President Zardari: what it means for Pakistan?

The year 2008 is proving to be an eventful year for Pakistan, first in February the nation elected new parliament through an election that are largely considered free and fair. The election produced a fractured parliament which needs cooperation among various parties to ensure continuity of democracy. The election also forced President Musharraf to resign and give way to a new president. PPP then decided to nominate Mr. Zardari as their candidate for the office of the President of Pakistan. Is it a surprise pick or it was on the horizon throughout this political turmoil? The answer lies in the history of Mr. Zardari and the organizational structure of PPP. Before Benazir Bhutto decided to return to Pakistan, Wall Street Journal ran a full page story on Asif Ali Zardari, when he came to US immediately after his release from prison. The story outlined that Mr. Zardari feels it is the birth right of Bhutto family to rule Pakistan and no other option is acceptable to him. It is no secret to any of his associates that he savors power and likes to accumulate it at any expense. All political parties in Pakistan, including PPP, are ran by influential individuals rather than an elaborate democratic process where leaders of the party are elected through a process of voting by members. It was in the interest of these leaders to accept Zardari as heir to Benazir Bhutto instead of allowing other senior leaders to compete for the chairmanship of the party.

The symbolism used in PPP press conferences gives insight into the thinking of the party leadership. When Senator Raza Rabbani announced the candidature of Mr. Zardari the back drop was pictures of Mr. Bilawal Zardari in middle while Mohtarma Benazir and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on each side of it. It means that anyone sitting in front of these pictures are accepting the patronage of Bhutto family to announce a key decision without much regard to the country and its ideals. It is only a matter of time when the formalities are completed and Mr. Zardari becomes the next President of Pakistan. What will be the role of power brokers in the country on this election?

During his 2 years stay in USA, Mr. Zardari held many meetings with US policy makers and leaders, brokered by current ambassador to USA Mr. Haqqani, to form his power base in the US. The concerned showed by US was the tarnished reputation of Mr. Zardari and its effect on US image if they supported his accession. But the turn of events in Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir, Mr. Zardari’s successful hold on PPP leadership and dwindling popularity of Musharraf forced US to look for a new partner. Mr. Zardari has to balance between the competing interest of US, military and Saudi Arabia. It will be unlikely that he stopped cooperating in US war on terror in the foreseeable future. All he can hope for is that Democratic Presidential Nominee Barak Obama wins elections and changes his war policy to include dialogue.The military on the other hand may not welcome this appointment and undermine the rule of PPP. Saudi Arabia historically supports Muslim Leaque, JUI(F) and military rulers in Pakistan. This means that they could play a positive role by forcing PPP to have a working relationship with PML (N) to complete the term of this assembly. PML (N) can not afford to jeopardize their relationship with Saudi Arabia by opposing them to an extreme position.

What would be the effect of President Zardari on Pakistani nation? The supreme court judges will be restored after oath of presidents office  as it will ensure that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry will not be able to indict Mr. Zardari as he will have presidential immunity during his presidential term while repeal of NRO can be used to twist arms of his opponents. The separatist movements in Balochistan and NWFP will continue to gain strength as PPP does not have the moral authority to solve these issues as Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first political leader to authorize military operation in Balochistan. PPP has never been popular as a business friendly party. Their socialist views are quite apparent from the current budget presented by them. The economy of Pakistan will continue to rely on oil subsidies from Saudi Arabia and economic aid from USA.

Considering Mr. Zardari’s desire to have absolute powers the repeal of 58 (2) (b) will also not happen under his watch as it will take away an important element of his presidential powers. Zardari is guardian of a party founded by Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who himself was a creation of a military ruler General Ayub Khan when he was appointed as a foreign minister in the marshal law administration. Mr. Zardari fully understands the political cycles in Pakistan which oscillates between civil and military rulers. It is the civilian cycle and if he does not gain control of the presidency it will be difficult to create foundation for the next generation of Bhutto family, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. We can hope that he will remember that without Pakistan there can not be a parliament or a prime minister.

To resolve Pakistan’s problems, she needs a leader of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s stature. Unfortunately the current leadership of all major political parties come with a baggage which cracks their resolve to stand up to vested interest in the country. The people of Pakistan have demonstrated time and again that they want to live together as one nation but the decisions of their leaders have worked against these feelings of unity. It seems that the leaders want to have their will imposed on the nation without much regard for the integrity of Pakistan. We need fresh ideas and a new start from our leadership at all levels. Unless we are ready to change, the situation will not improve and we will not gain dignity in the comity of nations.

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