I'm not a big Cowasjee fan as such. His reputation for the NGO "Shehri" is bad enough for me to be blown away by pretty words. But this is too good to pass.
HOW ironic. Having reiterated time and time again over the past years that the then president of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharraf, was (and remains) the best of the worst lot, it was highly amusing to read in a column headed “Musharraf’s Pakistan had true potential” printed in the Boston Globe of Aug 26: “The sad thing is that Musharraf was the best of the current lot.”
And how factual was an editorial in The Independent (London) of the same day which opened up: “Even by the notoriously low standards of South Asian politics, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP, is a compromised figure, dogged by corruption charges. So it is hard to be enthused by the PPP’s decision to nominate its leader as the country’s next president.”
This was one day after the Financial Times had broken the news of the medical reports compiled by two New York-based psychiatrists, which had been filed in a London court to support an application to delay corruption cases brought against him by the Pakistan government. The diagnoses were delivered in March 2007 and successfully served their purpose. The FT report opens “Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.”
The FT report has also been picked up and commented upon internationally. Pakistan is in the news again to its detriment. Presidential candidate Zardari has been diagnosed as suffering from “emotional instability”, memory loss and concentration problems, and major depressive disorder. These court papers have caused alarm amongst the citizens of his country who question his ability, and his fitness, to occupy the presidential chair.
In these past few days, I have been inundated with e-mails calling upon me to come to the aid of the country and save it from Zardari. Little do they know what a columnist can achieve — all he can do is save a few blind donkeys and some old trees. Even were I to approach the courts, under the present circumstances, my petition would be thrown out quicker than a wink of an eye. And the same goes for the Election Commission. Citizens of Pakistan are, these days, wary of ‘consequences’.
Now, constitutionally where does Zardari stand in view of the court-backed doubts about his mental state? The president, under Article 41(2) is required to be “qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly”. According to Article 63(a) a person is disqualified to be a member of the National Assembly if “he is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court”.
The court in London accepted the psychiatrists’ certificates and acted upon them. Zardari, if he wishes to deny the diagnoses, must plead that the London court is incompetent and that the psychiatrists were falsifying. We must go with an editorial of Aug 28 which counselled that “It would be unwise to dismiss the recent revelations about the fragile state of Mr Asif Zardari’s mental health as irrelevant,” and asked “Does the country really need another potentially deluded individual to lead it through these troubled times?”
Dementia, as any psychiatrist will confirm, is a progressive disorder which usually does not remit with any known treatment. A combination of major depressive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder can hamper memory and judgment. This goes a long way towards explaining the recent Zardari string of dishonoured signed agreements and broken promises.
As if the Zardari mental health state was not sufficient unto the day, news broke in Europe and the US two days later about the release by Switzerland of assets amounting to some $60m which were frozen in 1997 by a Geneva court investigating allegations of kickbacks received by Zardari and Benazir Bhutto between 1994 and 1997 (her second term as prime minister). In June, our attorney general penned a letter to the Swiss prosecutor general informing him that neither husband nor wife had done anything illegal and that the charges were politically motivated (thank you, USA and Musharraf, for the NRO). The money laundering case was dropped and Zardari is now richer than ever having pocketed a dubious $60m, though the PPP leader vehemently denies receiving this amount.
The investigating judge in Geneva, Daniel Devaud, was flabbergasted. “It would be very difficult to say that there is nothing in the files that shows there was possible corruption going on after what I have seen in there. After I heard what the general prosecutor said, I have a feeling we are talking about two different cases.” The Swiss release should not in any way be interpreted as a sign of innocence.
Now, let us revert to our mutilated almost incomprehensible constitution which as far as Article 62 goes is clear. To qualify as a member of the National Assembly, and thus to be able to contest the presidential election, a man must be “of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions”, and he must be “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen”. No further comment is necessary.
We must wonder how our armed forces feel about all this. After all, the president is not only their supreme commander but he has his finger on the nuclear button. Zardari and his sycophantic supine political party must ask themselves if he truly qualifies to be a head of state. He has five days in which to prove himself a patriot and a democrat. Democracy, no matter what the party slogan may proclaim, is not a form of revenge and for him to carry through his ambition (which he has nursed ever since he made up his mind to rid himself of Musharraf) would be an act of vengeance upon his country and its people.
Of the three presidential candidates, Mushahid Hussain is by far the cleanest (the ‘best of the worst’). I have suggested to him that, as a directly affected party, he go to the courts immediately and at least attempt to obtain a stay order. The frightened people of the world and the people of Pakistan will undoubtedly support his move.