"Asif Zardari ki zahanat ko salaam."Meaning, salute to the brilliance of Asif Zardari.
Hard to believe, but it was meant in total and complete earnest. How do I know that? A 'minjanib' (translated: from) postscript was added alongwith the green, red, black colors of the Pakistan's People's Party.
I laughed, of course. Which self-respecting Pakistani wouldn't.
However, as I was to read the following article later, it was foolish of me to do so. That banner had a hell lot of meaning to it. As it turns out, how Mr. Zardari has orchestrated the future of Pakistan. This is a must-read article for anyone who gives a damn.
So writes Karamatullah K. Ghori, and I quote:
A cynic could be pardoned for saying there’s never a dull moment in the ‘land of the pure.’ But the pace of political flux in Pakistan is, simply, much too mind-boggling even for the most jaded of pundits and crystal ball-gazers.Give the credit where it’s due. Asif Zardari has kept to his arcane game of breaking promises like chattels. This 21st century incarnation of Chanakya’s mantra of rajnit ( statecraft) — deceit, deception and duplicity — and Machiavelli’s guiding light of how the prince must take his subjects on a merry-go-round as long as he could, is a new phenomenon, even to the deeply duplicitous feudal culture of Pakistan. So Zardari has kept the whole nation of 165 million people spell-bound and literally on a wild goose chase.
The parting of the ways between Nawaz and Zardari had been on the cards from the moment they sat down together in Murree, or Bhurban, last March to ink the first of nearly half a dozen ‘agreements’ and pledges for the restoration of judges. The house of cards they had assembled had to collapse because the bigger partner never had the intent of following through on its commitment.
Zardari’s reservations on account of some of the judges doomed the agreement even before the ink could dry on it. The PPP supremo, elevated to the pedestal of his party’s kingmaker, didn’t want Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, in particular, to return to the bench of the apex court for a variety of reasons, mostly those focused on his past, present and future.
The burden of steering the coalition to a safe landing from the shoals had all along been on Nawaz, the minor of the two partners. He had taken a moral high ground on the issue of the judiciary’s sanctity from the moment he returned home from years of forced exile. His party won the election in Punjab largely on what it hawked as the moral imperative of restoring the top judiciary to its pre-November 3 position. Even if he wanted to resile from that moral plateau he couldn’t, because that would have doomed his future prospects for good.
The alliance with the PPP was also crucial to the fulfilment of Nawaz Sharif’s other high priority of getting rid of his arch nemesis, Musharraf. He knew that he couldn’t topple Musharraf from his perch without Zardari getting on board the juggernaut to breach his ( Musharraf’s) ramparts. The uneasy relationship, in that sense, was symbiotic, which kept it going for a while.Zardari may not have been as keen as Nawaz, initially, to kick Musharraf out of the presidency. There was a nexus of interests, no doubt, between Musharraf and him on several key issues, the most prominent of which riveted on Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The vocal and prying judge was a pariah in both their books; for sheer survival, the two of them were on the same page on this key demand of not only Nawaz but of the Pakistani people, en masse, to bring Chaudhry back to where he was on November 3.
But Zardari, in the meantime, had moved ahead of both Nawaz and Musharraf. His Machiavellian horse sense had guided him to make his own incursions into Musharraf’s erstwhile sanctum in Washington, the ultimate equaliser in Pakistan’s political dispensations. His team of court confidants at home, and one tribune positioned in the embassy in Washington, got him the audience that he had been seeking. The power brokers in ‘the capital of the world’ were finally convinced that Musharraf had become a liability and that there was a new asset available to run Pakistan according to their blueprint of priorities. Musharraf’s fate was sealed and delivered.
Musharraf’s glue, which had kept the two unnatural allies orbiting meaninglessly in the same sphere, becoming unstuck ordained the unravelling of the alliance. It didn’t take long to fall apart. There couldn’t be a different denouement than that for the two principal contenders to political power in Pakistan.
Putting the two in the balance, in terms of who gained how much and who lost what, Nawaz may still end up with a better deal, though not in the immediate sense of time. Taking a morally superior position and abiding by principles is not what Machiavelli would approve of. But Nawaz has secured Punjab on his side and the way the chemistry of the federation works — with Punjab being the prime element — it doesn’t need a political scientist’s brilliance and acumen to foresee the future.
Zardari, no doubt, is the prime beneficiary in the immediate sense. He has, in one stroke hit Musharraf’s ball out of the ballpark and got the presidency all but stitched for himself. Could anyone, in their wildest dream, have foreseen this cataclysmic change of fortunes, even a year ago? Could any of the jaded political soothsayers have perceived a man as universally reviled in Pakistan as Zardari in the hot seat of Musharraf?
However, Zardari’s victory carries the risk of proving pyrrhic in the long term, perhaps less for him than to the beguiled nation of mostly mute spectators. The first damage, incalculable at this stage, is almost certain to be caused to the federation’s moorings.
The strange spectacle of the provincial leaderships of the three smaller provinces of the federation — Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan — handing down ringing endorsements to Zardari as president smacks of three vs. one: Punjab against the rest of the federation. Where would this drawing of the battle lines take Pakistan to? It doesn’t bode well for the health of the federation, if not, exactly, threatening its unity.The second quantum of damage, which can be sniffed even at this early stage of the fray, is the spirit of the constitution of Pakistan, if not its letter, being mauled in the ongoing shenanigans to have Zardari elected as president. It defies common sense that the kingmaker should also double up as the king.
The office of the president, rightly being touted by Zardari’s partisans and apologists as the symbol of federation’s cohesiveness, demands, in spirit again, that whoever succeeds to it must stay away from politics and be non-partisan. Musharraf failed this litmus test, miserably, and so will Zardari. He will not be — none can imagine him as such — another Chaudhry Fazle Ilahi, who dwarfed against Bhutto. He would assert himself in everything, ride roughshod with impunity and flaunt his authority with gusto, especially with a meek and obliging PM like Gilani ready to do all his bidding and kowtowing to his commands without so much as a squeak of demur.
And all those hankering to balance the current power inequality between the president and the parliament could kiss goodbye to 58-2(B) being removed from the constitution. In fact, the way the Nawaz-Zardari entente cordiale is fraying, the spark for a real flare-up between the two parties they respectively lead would, in all probability, come much sooner than expected over this very issue: PML (N) seeking to undo the blighted provision that arms the president with doomsday powers, and the PPP minions resisting this demand in order to keep their man overly empowered. This could be more than a catalyst for confrontation between them.
But while Zardari as president may be fractious and divisive for the nation, the power brokers engineering this deal are happy at their stroke of genius, in their convoluted sense. In Zardari they have found another prince of darkness, a la Musharraf, eager and anxious to be their frontline soldier — albeit in civvies — in the war against terror. That’s what they expect of any and all Pakistani leaders, damn the rest of the nation’s priorities, pressures and concerns.
Washington has good reason to feel comfortable with Pakistan under Zardari doing more of the same that Musharraf had been doing, in fact do it with more exuberance and élan. The single minded devotion and commitment of the civilian government, led by the PPP, to the strategy of force in Bajaur, Swat and other flashpoints in Pakistan is ample evidence of the new recruits to the war on terror doing their master’s bidding with flawless commitment.
Any body doubting the shape and contours of the new game of power politics in Pakistan need only read the lead editorials in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, both leading exponents of the establishment elite on both sides of the Anglo-American camaraderie of interest, appearing on the same day, August 26. Both the editorials have lambasted Nawaz Sharif for not giving top billing to the terrorist threat and being lackluster about it. Both have expressed satisfaction that he’s not in power and heaved a sigh of relief at his being out of reckoning at the power centre. Need any more clues as to where Zardari is steering his newly- won fiefdom in Pakistan?