Monday, March 2, 2009

Has Zardari failed Pakistan?

A wily politician, Mr 10 per cent, American sycophant, a Nelson Mandela in the making. Of all the four adjectives attributed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, the last one amuses the most. Agreed that Mr Zardari refused to cut a deal with General Pervez Musharraf and spent almost a decade behind the bars, but does that make one a Nelson Mandela? Did he fight for his people, or for the democracy? One doesn’t even remember him planting a tree when he was the environment minister in his wife, late Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet in the 1990s.

The world knows under what circumstances, Zardari became a president. In the presidential election, he won convincingly, securing comfortable majorities in Parliament and three of the four regional assemblies, all of which are now under Zardari and PPP’s control. All thanks to his wife. So now that the reins of Islamabad are finally in his hands, what exactly has he done to and for Qaid-e-Azam’s beloved nation?

Though much has been said about the return of democracy to Pakistan and the transfer of power from an authoritarian to a civilian government, Pakistan is still the same – violent, unstable and volatile. “Zardari has failed Pakistan, his people and himself. Within a short period of nine months, the government and the PPP are not only in a chaotic state of disarray and collapse, but also the object of public ridicule,” says Pakistan-born Kamran Haider. A recent poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute says that 88 per cent of Pakistanis think their country is heading the wrong way while 60 per cent believe this year will be worse than last year.
“Zardari has proved former US diplomat Madeline Albright right. Pakistan continues to be an international migraine,” says a Pak official on condition of anonymity. “The biggest challenge to Mr Zardari is Mr Zardari himself. The greatest problem is his inability to run the government and to assess what the threat is,” says Ayesha Siddiqa, a strategic affairs analyst.

The latest example is the Swat deal.
Under the deal signed between the NWFP government and a group called the Tehreek-e-Nifas-e-Sharia Mohammadi, a system of Islamic courts will be set up in the Malakand division of the province, which includes seven districts including Swat Valley. While Pakistan calls it a positive step towards restoring government rule in the militant-overrun valley, South Asia experts believe the deal will only strengthen the Taliban in the country.

“The fact that such a deal was even considered indicates that Pakistan is crumbling and the region is at risk of spinning out of control. Such a state of affairs diminishes US’s chances of success in Afghanistan and raises the spectre of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals falling into the hands of Islamic extremists,” says Robert Maginnis, a US national security and foreign policy analyst. Opponents of the deal argue that the deal shows that the government has no coherent plan to combat militancy and it is intent on giving in to the militants’ demands.

‘Taliban is trying to take over Pakistan;’ ‘Pakistan fighting for survival against Taliban’; ‘We underestimated Taliban threat’; ‘Taliban is in huge amounts in Pakistan’— the only message that Zardari puts across via all these statements given to the media is that he is even more afraid of the extremists than his predecessor! And if more such deals are in the offing Mr Zardari, then “the fundamentalist Deobandi sect (which gave birth to the Afghan Taliban regime, its missionary arm, the Tablighi Jamaat and the Jama’at-e-Islami) may soon be an equal counterforce to the Zardari regime,” say Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism. “In the NWFP, the Jihadist demagogue Fazlur Rahman is more powerful than Zardari. Rahman controls many madrasas and it is said that 1,25,000 Talibans are studying there,” they add.

Reneging on promises
When Zardari came to power, he pledged to unite the country and bring back the rule of law, including the reseating of a number of judges sacked by Musharraf. But as of now he has failed to deliver, leaving lawmakers hostile and divided at a time when unity and stability are the need of the hour in Pakistan. His coalition with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has also collapsed over the reinstatement of judges. Zardari accuses the deposed CJ Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry of playing politics and refusing to grant him bail in the BMW case. And if Fatima Bhutto, Benazir’s niece, is to be trusted, “Zardari believes in the politics of revenge and retribution”.

“What the president fears most of all is an independent and impartial judiciary that could overturn the NRO and declare him to be ineligible for the presidency on the grounds that he is not a "graduate,” says a report in The News International. All one gets to witness in Pakistan is not democracy, as Zardari had promised, but political bickering and power play. Analysts are concerned about the extent to which Zardari is trying to concentrate power in his own hands. “Zardari stands to inherit the wide-ranging powers amassed by his predecessors, including the right to sack Parliament and appoint army chiefs,” says a report in the Time magazine.

Musharraf had remade the presidency as a vehicle to legitimise his own dictatorship via the 17th amendment to the Constitution. Although Zardari has promised to end this amendment to make the Parliament supreme, it is doubtful whether Pakistan’s new Machiavellian will cut his own powers as a president. What’s more, he has even failed to bring Benazir’s perpetrators to book.

Despite the powerful 17th amendment by his side, Zardari remains a poodle of the ISI and the Pakistan army. It is said that for every decision Mr President has to consult the establishment. Be it the stand on India, Kashmir or US and war on terror – the decisions are only conveyed by Zardari. Two incidents prove this:

1) When Zardari spoke of putting the Kashmir issue aside for the sake of establishing trade relations with India, Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani rushed to reiterate that the Pakistan Army’s stand on the Kashmir issue is the same as it has always been.

2) When civilian government under PM Yousuf Raza Gilani tried to place the ISI under Interior Ministry. The move was said to be in response to international calls of reining in the ISI post Indian embassy bombing in Kabul. The army was not happy, as a consequence of which the civilian government was forced to take back the decision.

“Zardari’s powers as a president are limited. It is clear that as long as Zardari and his men function within the limits set by Pakistan establishment – Pakistan Army and ISI – they will be allowed to remain in power. If they try to take foreign policy decisions especially concerning the Kashmir issue or decisions pertaining to the armed forces in their hands, the army will move in,” says Sahiba Trivedi of Strategic Foresight Group.

Too undiplomatic
Zardari doesn’t behave like a president. One only gets a sense of overwhelming incompetence when the president goes around saying, “Mujhe Madhuri Dixit achchi lagti hai” (I like Madhuri Dixit) and who can forget his friendly exchange of pleasantries with Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. On the sidelines of the UNGA meeting, while one expected him to drum up support for his country, Zardari openly admired her looks and said he might insist on giving her a hug! That’s quite unworthy of a Head of a state and flirting with Pakistan only earned Zardari a fatwa.

Team Zardari
All Zardari has in the name of his team are a couple of cronies and mediocres. “The Zardari government doled out ministries; like sweets in a wedding. The haste in which the government carved out the new ministries, suggests, soon we may even see ministers for roosters and hens each,” says Adnan Gill, a columnist with Asian Tribune, Colombo. The recent flip flops over 26/11 suggest that in Zardari’s team the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is up to. “Zardari failed to create a team that could govern or inspire confidence and trust…His crew is inexperienced,” says a report in The News International.

The above discussion only leads to one conclusion that Zardari, as a president, has failed so far, but one should keep in mind that not all the problems confronting Zardari are of his making. The next series would discuss the problems faced by Zardari and the options available to him for a better Pakistan. Watch out this space for more...
(End of Part I of the series)


Dhiren Raj said...

Whether Zardari failed Pak or the other way round, the country is in a mess. 26/11 has proved the country is not the epicentre of terror and a danger for the world. India has a daunting task ahead and Zardari, unlike Musharraf, doesn't seem to have either the will or the power to tackle the home-grown menace. Will God save the sub-continent? or Mr Obama?

K.R.V. Nair said...

Why just blame Zardari? Blame Musharraf...Blame Zia..Blame Ms Bhutto..Blame Sharif...Pakistan is a failed state and it is not the handiwork of just one leader.

Bhadra Iyer said...

It is not just Swat, but I hink the entire Pakistan will suffer the same fate. A recent US study said that now the Taliban in Pakistan are after Karachi. Zardari is a nincompoop...Neither US can trust him, nor his party, nor the awaam of pakistan. The US drones shd first target Zardari.