Since the announcement of Asif Ali Zardari as the candidate till this date, on the eve of the presidential election, the newspapers are full of verbal vitriol against the man who is going to be most likely voted as the next President of Pakistan.
The elite writers of this country and elsewhere love to have a go at him and this is almost pathological, if I can use a medical metaphor. Asif Zardari is the hangman, the fall guy, responsible for everything, including bad weather, bad times and bad everything. He is presented variously as the feudal lord, as the man who breaks promises, and now the two that I find quite below the belt are, the stories of his supposed mental illness and an informal reference to Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s ambassador to the UN.
This heap of wordy onslaught is baffling, and it would make for an interesting sociolinguistic study. I for one would like to analyse the language, the content, and the substance of these articles. The language is curt, packed with personalised and emotive tones, often more colloquial, and replays a certain script which comprises the following elements: that Zardari was corrupt and everyone knows it — never mind that nothing was proven, that he did not keep his word, and does not want to restore judges, and because of this, he should not be president.
As far as the popular sentiment and aspiration of the people goes, none of this makes political sense.
First, no one can deny the fact that Asif Zardari knows his politics, and knows it well. His politics is logical, often cold-hearted but pragmatic to the core.
Politics and morality are not the same thing. Politics is not religion nor is it a moral code. It is the art and the science of reaching, keeping and sustaining power. It is a system of making, or breaking alliances, for the common cause. The only principle that is of primal value for the party he leads, the Pakistan People’s Party, is democracy and that power has to flow from the people and the ultimate objective is to deliver the goods to them. This is the basis on which the party has fielded Zardari as a candidate, and the path to that end is strictly according to the law.
Zardari knows his politics, and he also knows how political tactics can make dictators melt away, and turn fortunes around, can bring together parties that formerly never saw eye to eye. In an art that works through symbols, gestures and cleverly crafted statements, he uses the symbols and gestures effectively, politically and with results. He befriended his political opponents, he apologised to the people of Balochistan, he got his party workers to visit the graveyard of Altaf Hussain’s brother killed in an ethnic conflict, and then got the MQM leadership to visit former chief minister Abdullah Shah’s brother who was also killed in the conflict thus healing broken relations. Then the MQM leadership came to Garhi Khuda Bux to offer fateha for Benazir Bhutto. All these exchanges forged political ties between hitherto unlikely partners.
In his many speeches too, his political language is to forge ties that string history with present politics. The last I heard him, he spoke of his links with Khan Abdul Wali Khan whom he met in jail, with Nauroz Khan, who was the Baloch leader who was hanged and his relations helped with the funeral preparations.
And of course not to forget, his eleven years in jail were not spent writing a nostalgic book, they were used crafting a new political agenda. In jail, Asif Ali Zardari befriended opponents, made new contacts and reached out to the political class that was the underdog of Pakistani establishment.
Prisons are liminal spaces, waiting rooms of history. Prisons have reversed fortunes, taken people from rags to riches and vice versa. The prison period perhaps was the place where Zardari trained in political strategy and planning. The ideas for reconciliation with Nawaz Sharif took root then, as did the method to appease the Baloch.
True, he is not a populist, he realises perhaps that he is not a Bhutto who would draw a vast ecstatic crowds. Now more than ever, with a family to look after, and a party to manage, he cannot even afford this, as populism in Pakistan is fraught with dangers. He has been a backseat manager of sorts, the prime strategist of the party.
Pakistan People’s Party is built on tolerance, on how party workers, leaders, stalwarts can stand by the party in times of trouble. Imprisonment of Asif Ali Zardari for nearly eleven years earns him party credits few can compete with. This was not just simply about being in the prison but fighting many court cases, ranging from murder of Murtaza Bhutto, theft, bomb attack, all involving difficult and torturous court journeys, and not to forget the physical torture that the world witnessed.
Talking of principles, Zardari has proved loyal to the party and steadfast as well. Talking further of principles, here is a person who despite his eleven years in prison, has not pursued politics of revenge. And finally, here is a man who stood by his wife, and her politics, agreed to be her second in a society where it is not the done thing. So where is the feudal?
To the urban people, everyone hailing from the rural areas especially rural Sindh who has some land has to be a “feudal” a term often used to malign the rural landowning families. Zardari is not a feudal. Even the lifestyle of the Zardari family has not been “feudal.” Certainly land was not the only source of income. If he was a feudal, would he let his sisters come into the field of rough politics? And now speak vehemently on distribution of land to the landless women, which a typical conservative landowner would never do. His father was modern and middle-class businessman who ran cinema business in the 60s in Karachi. The family is versatile with deep political and social networks. Zardari is related to the Effendi family who laid the foundation of the Sind Madressah, an alma mater of political renaissance in Sindh. He is also related to Mirza Qulich Beg, the most prolific writer Sindh has ever produced. Mirza Qulich Beg has at least 500 writings, and translations to his credit, among them the classic Chachnameh. This is a class of families that is intellectually firmly rooted in history
In the final analysis, for me as a political worker from his party, and somebody touched by the magic of the Bhuttos, it is not Asif Ali Zardari that is important, but what he represents politically. He represents party unity and continuity, and has faithfully followed in the footprints of Benazir Bhutto.
If this is the man who has used helped us overcome the grief and tragedy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and if he has used political means to get us rid of the most detested and dangerous man in Pakistan’s recent history, and then brought together Mohajirs and Sindhis, Balochis and Punjabis, and work to heal the wounds of the Pushtoons, isn’t he the most important symbol of the federation?
Surely history makes its own selections. Zardari has made the necessary historical strides, and yes, the manoeuvres too, suffered trials and tribulations, sometimes made some glaring mistakes that he has boldly acknowledged, has learnt his lessons from his many experiences, and is now the man who moderates politics, moderates east and west, and moderates political power. He is the man who matters. A presidency with him in there will help in bringing coherence and cohesion to the nation, to the system, and to the federation and most importantly, this would be a befitting tribute to a man who took the reigns of a broken-hearted party and turned its grief to strength on the fated Dec 27, 2007
The writer is a PPP MNA.