The politics of being Asif Zardari

Nafisa Shah

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.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “The politics of being Asif Zardari

  1. One of the best comments came as a Facebook status: “Jawad Ali lost his hubcaps. Zardari?”

  2. azhar aslam

    An interesting article. But expected from a PPP MNA. Now that Zardari is the President, all good luck to Pakistan and may he serve as he really claims. However the article si full of factual inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Here are a few :
    ‘the newspapers are full of verbal vitriol against the man who is going to be most likely voted as the next President of Pakistan’.
    Err… is it a crime to point out to the inconsistencies, about turns, reneged promises and past record of anyone standing for this post?
    ‘the stories of his supposed mental illness …’.
    This story was not ‘supposed’. It was printed by Financial Times quoting the actual medical report submitted to a British court.
    Doubts cast on Zardari’s mental health
    By Michael Peel in London and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
    Published: August 25 2008 23:31 | Last updated: August 25 2008 23:31
    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 widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical …….
    …… While Mr Zardari was not available to comment, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to London, speaking on his behalf, said he was now fit and well….
    ….. In court documents seen by the Financial Times, Philip Saltiel, a New York City-based psychiatrist, said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Mr Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. “I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” Mr Saltiel wrote.
    Stephen Reich, a New York state-based psychologist, said Mr Zardari was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide.
    Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption, court records show

    ‘never mind that nothing was proven’
    Err … really ? ‘….. the concluding part of text of the judgment of Swiss investigating magistrate, Mr Daniel Devaud, in the SGS, Cotecna case against Ms Benazir Bhutto:
    That nothing effectively permits the conclusion that SGS and Cotecna, for themselves, Hans Fischer and Robert MASSEY, had consented to a sacrifice of more than USD 5 million for the sole purpose of making a donation, without compensation, to the couple Bhutto-Zardari. These payments were without a doubt made in order to obtain the desired contract, in such a manner that SGS and Cotecna therein found their benefit. If Benazir Bhutto had acted fairly, it would not be herself or her husband, but rather the State of Pakistan, which should have benefited, by example in the form of a discount on amounts billed by SGS and Cotecna, from the financial sacrifice that SGS and Cotecna were prepared to make;

    That it is moreover not doubtful that the behavior of Benazir Bhutto and her husband is criminally reprehensible in Pakistan
    That Mrs Benazir Bhutto will be condemned to reimburse jointly with her husband Mr Asif Ali Zardari the proceed of the unfair management of the public interests of the Republic of Pakistan laundered in Switzerland, being USD 11,997,423.00 (eleven million nine hundred ninety seven four hundred twenty three dollars);’
    ‘Politics and morality are not the same thing’.
    Of course not. Not for Pakistani politicians. It never has been. So we assume ‘ immorality and politics are’. Surely politics is not morally neutral. Especially in the event that if people are to be served.
    ‘It is the art and the science of reaching, keeping and sustaining power’.
    Oh sorry …. Excuse us….Some of us idiots thought it was to serve masses, people, public ,, awamm ????
    ‘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’.
    So PPP is a democratic party with democratically elected leadership? Sorry for not knowing…
    ‘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’.
    Which is? And isn’t it sad that this agenda could only be brought forth due to sad death of his wife.
    ‘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’.
    Family is fine. But is the president of Pakistan going to look after his party as well at the same time. ??? Surely he will..
    ‘If he was a feudal, would he let his sisters come into the field of rough politics?’
    Hmm…. Didn’t realize they were the only feudal women in political business… may be abida hussain , Shazia Mazari, leghari, Hina Rabbani Khar etc are not.

    ‘His father was modern and middle-class businessman who ran cinema business in the 60s in Karachi.’
    Exactly. Makes one wonder where the millions ( if not billions) in dollars were made from? I wonder..

    ‘and if he has used political means to get us rid of the most detested and dangerous man in Pakistan’s recent history,’

    …. And with a little help from US government,….. although he was quite happy to use a certain ordinance issued by this dangerous person….. and then in return he let this most dangerous man go ……?
    ‘is now the man who moderates politics, moderates east and west, and moderates political power. He is the man who matters’.

    Of course…. Hence the need for this article by the writer..…

    ‘ A presidency with him in there will help in bringing coherence and cohesion to the nation, to the system, and to the federatio’n.

    May it do, May it do….

    ________________________________________

  3. The Honourable Ms. Nafisa Shah says, “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.”

    True. That is what democracy is all about. And certainly we should not doubt President Zardari’s ability to deliver the Ultimate Objective. Especially based on the sterling record of his party, when in power, over the past few decades. And even if one were to doubt that sterling record, the oh-so-sincere-and-engaging smile of our newly-minted sovereign convinces her (and us, of course). After all, would a man with a face as beatific as all that lie? Not by the greying hairs of my chinny chin chn, i’ll warrant.

    Another uplifting statement she makes is “Pakistan People’s Party is built on tolerance…” And ne’er was a truer word spoken. The tolerance of its members in remaining loyal to our gloriously villeinous [sic] political structures and strictures warms the cockles of this old cynic’s sclerotic heart.

    i appreciate the fact that she appreciates the fact that President Zardari “has proved loyal to the party and steadfast as well.” Surely a worthy trait. He could have joined any party (political or social) in Pakistan. Instead he chose to remain steadfast and loyal to the party owned by his family. Such familial allegiance is to be lauded. Eminently. Two cheers for loyalty. (And one for steadfastness, while we’re at it.)

    i also thank Ms. Shah for introducing me to even more illustrious members of President Zardari’s family. Had i but known that he was related to “the most prolific writer Sindh has ever produced” i should never have doubted his obviously vast intellectual abilities, which naturally have entered into him through the divine wonders of heredity. (Which doubts were, in any case, minimal, to say the least.)

    i can now sleep peacefully, knowing the country is finally safe in the hands of the one man who can bring our benighted nation out of the darkness and into the light. Diet Cokes ‘R Us, so to speak, eh?

  4. Shaheryar Ali

    Lovely, what we expected from Qaim Ali Shah’s brilliant daughter !!!

  5. Greetinsg of the day!!

    1st of all let me congratulate you on the Presidency to Mr-Asif Ali Zardari.Thats called the revenge of the history(makafat-e-amal)
    Well with all regard i will disagree what mr-Azhar have written in his writings about Mr-Zardari,infact he is presenting the views of urban middle class,right wing media on mr-Zardari.
    We cant work on the assumptions.We have to be critical but with all the positive attitude.Now even the right wing media persons have been writing in their articles that mr-Zardari was just sent to prison on the politically motivated false cases.
    You see the persons whom started this was Ishaq khan when he dismissed the 1st government of the martyr Benazir Bhutto in 1990,but latter he took the false cases back and took mr-Zardari as a cabinet member in the care taker government.
    Then it was the famous tapes which were released of Justice Qayyum&Saif ul rehman,in which it was decided to sent Zardari sb to prison in any case,latter Saif ur rehman made apologies in the court to mr-Zardari.
    even the 02 Sharif Brothers made apologies to mr-Zardari in the jail and they confessed that all the cases were just politically motivated and to give Zardari sb a bad name.
    So my dear Azhar sb you cant distort the history.And History will take the revenge when tomorrow you will hear the slogans of Jiye Bhutto / Jiye BB,How that Establishment and the 03 Chiefs(Army-Navy-Air-Force)bear that.
    The win of the People!!

  6. Aliarqam

    Thanks Nafisa for Presenting your Point of View well

    For our right wing media…the millionaire anchors….the so called journalists….
    One Question to ask….
    No One has targeted their Bazaam e khud
    intellectual colleague…of accepting a Post Of PTV head…no one has asked him why he jumped from one channel to the other for the sake of high Pay….and facilities
    2nd…Be honest to bringing forward The Daily Observer Report published in 1998 regarding the Corruption of Mian Brothers…the amount of Sum accepted from Osama bin Laden…to destabilize Bibi Shaheed govt in 1993…the attempt of being the amirul mominin…or they think that he has come from the sacred place of Saudi Arabia… SAAQI TERI MEHFIL MEY HAM JAAM UCHALEIN GEY..
    JAB KAABE MEY JAIN GEY ZAM ZAM SE NIHALEIN GEY….

  7. persona

    “democracy is the best revenge” …the revenge from the Awaam..this is what is happening actually.

  8. Aliarqam

    Yaa…
    If the term AWAAM relates only to those who havent voted in the recent elections…whom Qazi or Imran thought as the silent majority…who want to vote both of them and have boycott the elections…

    Its revenge from all those who dont believe in democratic process…and praying for miracles or Shortcuts from the invisible forces

  9. Shaheryar Ali

    These “intellectuals” of right wing like Shahid Masood are “thakedars” of every one’s else morality, but have no morality of themselves. In the first meeting at PTV he said “I am a right winger”. Next he sabotaged PM speech, than suspended, Shahid Nadeem, a man who has a history of fighting Zia ul Haq and Sharif fascism.
    This man is being paid millions by PPP govt. Sherry Rehman, whats wrong with us???

  10. aliarqam

    Its the price paid by the govt to show the people the real face of these people having a price tag on their chests…
    Yeh Bikao Maal hein…yehi batana hai sub ko….
    Shahid Nadim dismissal is the most unjustified act by the PPP govt till now…

  11. aliarqam

    Its the price paid to reveal….how hypocrats are these Ba zaam e khud…in k mutabiq intellectuals…it reminds me of Hasan Nisar Comments…on TVone in Lucman Show…he said..
    Mujhe koi Danishwar kahe tou lagta hai jaise Maa behan ki Gaali day raha ho…

  12. aliarqam

    Watch out my blog page on the new interpretation of the Geo-lobbist about the earthquakes in the north of Pakistan…

  13. Has

    Nafisa Shah – your article did not make sense at all from a neutral’s point of view, did not expect that from an OXFORD GRADUATE. Come out of your biased shell and then write.

    Your article lacked facts and was full of assumptions and theories. OK, even if we agree with you that AAZ is LOYAL to your party and he learned politics in prison, not in the field “BUT IS HE LOYAL TO PAKISTAN?” I believe even you had reservations about that, so you could not even LIE ABOUT IT.
    Would have thanked you for presenting your point of view, but it even lacked that as well – Nafisa try to write your mind, not a topic asked by someone!!!

    Azhar Aslam: Very factual critical review – it’s not her fault that she was very biased in her writing, she was trying to write from the heart to impress PPP supporters or party hierarchy to show their family loyalty to their democratic party which matters more then loyalty to the COUNTRY itself, its only when you use your brain you look at the facts and want to address the real issue. That’s why she failed to defend Zardari

    Harris Azhar – Can you please define Martyr??? It makes me sick when people use the word martyr without knowing what it actually means… I apologies if I am disrespecting the dead, I think you should as well, as you certainly are.

  14. YLH

    Who is afraid of Asif Ali Zardari… I tell you it is the haute bourgeoisie from the region between Okara and Attock led by Nawaz Sharif and his minions.

    Till a decade ago they were the blue-eyed boys of the establishment…. now fate has put them on side of the Lawyers’ Movement. But their core is extreme right wing conservative.

    Asif Ali Zardari may not be perfect but he enjoys the backing of 3.5 provinces. Today the federation is strong because of him.

  15. Ahmed Chowdhry

    I would second that one from YLH, though believe me i have my fingers crossed…I think since the tragic demise of BB, his political handling of the issues has been much better than that of BB..

  16. Shaheryar Ali

    I think One must notes what YLH has said. Its very important point. Infact the only important point which has been totally ignored by the media and intellectuals
    Pakistan is a federation at least after 71 , we should have learned it

  17. Aliarqam

    When someone is disturbed by the word Shaheed for Benazir Bhutto or His Shaheed father…he definitely would have reserved it for the Zia,Nawaz Spiritual father….whom he had promised to accomplish his mission…and what was his mission…Great Jihad under the command of Charlie Wilson…to destabilize the region in the interest of US…all those who are killed for the cause of world powers…are DECLARED SHAHEED…. Ahmad Faraz has rightly commented on ZIA murder as…ab samaj aya ye shair…k

    Shaheed ki jo maut hai wo Qaum ki Hayat hai…

  18. Hunainsaani

    Neutral…it’s the word who I could not understand his meaning with respect to the current political scenario…
    No One can be neutral…
    There are two major classifications in Pakistan political parties..

    One the liberal democratic parties.. As PPP,ANP,MQM Pro-Musharraf civil and military Establishment ,other nationalist factions..and an exception JUI
    And Other the Religous conservative Right..as PML,JI,PTI,Pro-Zia Establishment etc…
    One who does not belong to any of them can claim of Neutral…and he will be A Liar