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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

In defence of President Zardari

Asadullah Ghalib offers an assessment of the PPP Government's progress:


The 'minus-one' syndrome

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Ikram Sehgal

A concerted media campaign has been mounted against the head of state, being accused of engaging in corrupt practices should be nothing new for Asif Ali Zardari. Most of the shenanigans are attributed to his friends who not only seem to flit in and out of the presidency at will but also flout the authority that stems from it, also at will. The media's responsibility to carry out accountability notwithstanding, who is orchestrating the regular feed of information fuelling the accusations of impropriety? And why?

Corporate details are the work of insiders, either passed on voluntarily, or given 'on request'. What is the objective? To bring to power another adventurer or simply effect a change of face at the presidency as the 'minus-one formula' suggests? Normally one would discount uniformed intelligence agencies being behind this, it would be monumentally stupid for the Pakistan army to try to run Pakistan again. The question arises, will burning ambition ever learn?

Media accusations and denials thereof should be made without vituperation or histrionics, one should avoid a government-media confrontation. Everyone and his uncle knows that the PIA is being taken to the cleaners, however, predecessors more unworthy than Capt Aijaz Haroon made their own future bright while making PIA's future increasingly darker. The lurid stories about Pakistan Steel wanton loot and plunder, and so on and so forth about other government and semi-government organisations are increasingly being 'mentioned in media-dispatches'. The Zardari regime does not have a corner over corruption, this was alive and well during the Musharraf regime and Nawaz Sharif's that preceded him. No political leader who has been in power can cast the first stone, chances are that he (and/or his family and friends) has been involved in nepotism and/or corruption of one kind or another!

Musharraf did sort out some real issues in the first three years of his rather benign dictatorship. Subsequent to the blatant rigging of the 2002 elections he isolated the "Knights of the Long Table" (the corps commanders) from the country's administration. Thereafter he ran the country as an absolute monarch through a mix of hand-picked cronies from the military, civil bureaucracy, technocrats, businessmen etc., one big party-time in all the senses of the phrase! Behind the political facade (all the while the army haplessly continued to get a bad name) they ran the country to the ground. But so did Nawaz Sharif before him with his own particular mix of cronies, so why pick on Zardari alone?

Our democratic credentials have made us more palatable to those whose financial support we need desperately, mainly the US. The US has been really generous compared to our other Friends of Democratic Pakistan. While we carp endlessly about being drawn into the 'war against terrorism' because of the US, one has to be a moron to imagine that the Taliban psyche in Afghanistan pre-9/11 would not have eventually spilt over into Pakistan. The 9/11 attacks probably hastened the process, as night turns into day the jihadi nightmare that nearly engulfed Swat was in store for all of Pakistan. Honestly, could we have survived economically as a nation if the US had not shored us up financially when it itself is in a deep economic crisis? While our traditional friends, China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, continue to help us, only the US-led initiative has sustained our growing economic stability. Moreover, without the US, our ambitions for energy-autarky are a pipedream!

Both Benazir Bhutto (in exile) and Asif Zardari (in incarceration) courageously fought their court cases. For Asif Zardari compromise in exchange for his freedom was repeatedly dangled in front of him. Neither Nawaz Sharif nor Musharraf's regime managed to convict him or make him bend to their will. Even though the 'hijacking' charges against the Sharifs were trumpeted ones having no legal basis whatsoever, the agreement allowing them exile was the easy route. In contrast Asif Zardari conducted himself in eight years of incarceration with bravery and dignity, and to his credit, with abundance of humour. One has to admire his courage and tenacity in standing up to the odds stacked against him for a lifetime in prison for cases he was never convicted for. Therefore his acceptance of relief under Musharraf's NRO when he could have easily fought the court cases into oblivion was a shock. The democratic process by which he took the president's chair by a heavy mandate was good for the federation since all the provinces contributed significantly to his victory, the NRO stained that success unnecessarily.

Mr Zardari has to swiftly correct the anomalies in the constitution that presently corrupt (no pun intended) and negate good governance. Those undeserving ones occupying positions of authority, having no relevance to PPP's undeniable democratic base, need to be put out to pasture. The people of this country made Zardari the head of state by a huge mandate, he must return this favour by using the undeniable capabilities that brought him to the president's chair for their good, and their good alone. And that incidentally will be for his own good! While we definitely need course correction and for promises to be fulfilled, we can also do without talk of a change of horse midstream. What Asif Ali Zardari needs to do is to be truly the president of Pakistan, in word and deed. (The News)

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

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