As the minus-one formula gains currency in Pakistan, our writer Bilal Qureshi has authored this post to present a different case. PTH does not necessarily subscribe to these views. RR
Every time I write something about Asif Zardari, Pakistan’s current president, I get several e-mails daily condemning me for ‘supporting’ him. So, once again, I have to clarify something from the start. I am not a supporter of Zardari.
However, if one looks at the history of President’s in Pakistan, Zardari will stand out as the most significant name in the list. But, it is impossible to make this point in this extremely polarized environment when unfortunately, Zardari’s name gives heartburn to a large group of Pakistanis, both inside and outside the country.
For me, Zardari became a leader when he refused to compromise with those who wanted to sign a confession and leave the country, just like Nawaz Sharif and his family did after reaching a deal with Musharraf and fled the country. Zardari, just like Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif could have enjoyed a plush life in Saudi Arabia and London, but Zardari refused to comprise and accepted prison over luxurious life in exile. But, the defining moment was Zardari’s decision to stop those who were shouting anti Pakistan and anti Punjab slogans after Benazir’s body was flown to Sindh for burial. Everyone was crying, the emotions were high, but Zardari stepped forward and directly confronted people from his own province, Sindh and snubbed those who were blaming Punjabi elements in establishment for Benazir’s death. Zardair’s courageous decision to confront those angry workers told me, and millions of other skeptics that Zardari is a man of courage and conviction.
Thanks to the confession of Brig Imtiaz, which has forced other intelligence officers from the past to admit their role in destroying democracy in Pakistan, it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Zardari’s name has been trashed for about 20 years to force Benazir Bhutto out of politics. We now know that the attacks on Zardari were designed to destroy the credibility of Pakistan People’s Party.
In the light of stunning revelations by Brig Imtiaz as to how the army was dead against handing over power to Benazir, especially the reins of foreign policy towards Afghanistan, India and the nuclear program, it is clear that the army tasked Brig Imtiaz and other officers to come up with a long term scheme that would seriously deflate Benazir’s desire for a moderate, educated and non-hysterical Pakistan.
After carefully examining Benazir Bhutto, her family, her father’s heroic death etc, Pakistan army correctly concluded that attacking Benazir would not do any good because the entire Bhutto clan was as clean as an infant when it comes to politics. So, thinking outside the box produced targeting Zardari, and this new line of attack would not only destroy Zardari’s future role in Pakistan’s politics, but also hurt Benazir’s credibility.
At this point, I have to admit that this was a brilliant strategy. The relentless attacks on Zardari started paying off dividends from the outset. Not only was Zardari’s credibility destroyed, but these attacks also damaged the Bhutto brand in Pakistan’s politics. These attacks which came from all sides, forced Benazir Bhutto to compromise, which further cemented this image that Benazir is a power hungry woman who would do anything to get back in power.
In the end, Benazir Bhutto had to move to Dubai to rear her three small children because her own country, Pakistan was made extremely unsafe for her. Asif Zardari ended up serving little under12 years in prison on every imaginable charge under the sun, but, as horrific as it sounds, not a sing charge was proved in any court of law.
So a patriotic woman, Benazir Bhutto is separated from her husband for about 12 years, Zardari and her children can’t see each other for 12 years, Zardari spends 12 years in multiple prisons in Pakistan, but, in the end, no one is held accountable for this tragedy. Worse, in this climate of extreme hatred towards Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Benazir ends up losing her life, while literally fighting for democracy (she was shot after addressing a public rally in Pindi), and, believe it or not, this vicious rumor was spread in the country that somehow it was Zardari who has something to do with Benazir’s tragic and untimely death, even though, Zardari asked Benazir not to travel to Pakistan.
It won’t get any more tragic.
So, coming back to my original point, after all this ups and down, prisons and death threats, Zardari ends up as the president of Pakistan. And because of his sacrifices and the struggle of his entire family, Zardari realizes that the window of opportunity is limited and he roles up his sleeves, starts work to put Pakistan on the right track, but this is unacceptable to those who are interested in seeing Pakistan as the global hub for Taliban like movements and Zardair’s decision to take on the Taliban and other terrorists across Pakistan has further enraged right wing politicians, as well as former and current intelligence officers. Just listen to any television program in Pakistan and you will find people declaring Zardari as America’s agent and working on American agenda.
What? American agenda?
Yes, American agenda because apparently, working for peace, prosperity, promoting education, attracting foreign investment, solving Pakistan energy and water crisis is somehow American agenda.
In fact, the anger and hostility towards America is so high and so strong that when I wrote a piece about American efforts and investment in Pakistan, a major English daily declined to pint it because according to the editor, it was too pro America. I protested and asked him to check all the figures quoted in my piece and point out if anything was incorrect, but he insisted that the article was too pro America and not fit for publican in Pakistan. Now, imagine, in this environment, if you declare someone an American agent, or someone as working to advance America’s agenda in the country, that person or politician can’t achieve anything, but Zardari has kept his head high and he keeps on trying to solve Pakistan’s colossal problems.
Of course, Zardari has made terrible mistakes, and like rest of us, he too is not perfect, but if you look at Zardari’s overall performance, one has to admit that he has done great. For example, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, not even a single dime changed hands during recent Senate elections because Zardari moved in such a way that all parties got their share and there was no need to bribe people to buy their votes. This in itself is a historic achievement, but you will never find anyone in Pakistan even mentioning this campaign. Instead, you’d hear vitriolic personal attacks against Zardari based entirely on hearsay.
Zardari has also traveled the globe to attract investment and to ensure that Pakistani goods have access to every possible market in the world, but this too is not mentioned. Finally, Zardari is the only high ranking government official who took people with him to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra and paid for their boarding and lodging from his own pocket – first time in Pakistan’s history, but this too is never mentioned, nor is Zardari given credit for this.
Whatever I have mentioned above can be verified independently, but obviously, being objective and honest about ground realities is equated with praising Zardari, which is not my job.. Zardari and people around him are capable of defending Zardari. All I am saying that we should wake up, give credit where it is due, take responsibility for our failure and actions and focus on issue, instead of personal attacks.
By speaking out openly about his horrible role in the past, Brig Imtiaz has taught us that if the country kept on focusing on personalities instead of issues, the country and the nation would continue to suffer.