Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Noose tightens on Zardari

The dastardly attack on Sri Lankan cricket team is just the latest sign of disintegration of security and inefficiency of the Zardari government. Can he atone for the damage caused to Pakistan?

"It's not that Zardari's intentions are necessarily bad. It's just that he lacks the capacity to lead Pakistan. He may be an operator, and a smart one at that, but his outlook and capacity are both limited”

It is indeed surprising that noted columnist Ayaz Amir singles out Zardari when it comes to steering one of the world’s most unstable nations. Be it Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharif or Pervez Musharraf – they have all been smart operators and wily players, but not leaders. Pakistan was a failed state and remains so.

Of course militancy has grabbed Pakistan by its horns, but that has happened over the years. If the other leaders of the country had the outlook and capacity that Amir talks about, then why didn’t they nip terrorism in the bud? Why did the Pakistani awaam vote for him?

Leading Pakistan has always been an uphill task and Zardari has his hands full. He hasn’t made a real difference to the country, but he cannot be blamed for everything and anything that Islamabad suffers from, namely the country’s financial state of affairs.

When Zardari was crowned as the president in 2008, the country’s economy was in shambles with inflation touching 25 per cent. Pakistan saw 10 billion dollars wiped off its international reserves from October 2007 to October 2008. The ongoing global recession is like a final nail in the nation’s coffers.

The government was forced to sell off its money-making public sector assets like Qadirpur gas fields and the Jamshoru Steel Power plant. Foreign investors also started to pull out. Official figures put Pakistan's foreign direct investment (FDI) this year at 3.5 billion dollars compared to 5.2 billion dollars last year.

Zardari, on his part, issued an official SOS to the international community for an emergency bail-out. He approached the IMF to stave off a looming Balance-of-Payment crisis that could have seen the country of 160 million default on its foreign debts.

The IMF approved a stand-by loan of 7.6 billion dollars for cash-starved Pakistan and released its first tranche of 3.1 billion dollars in November.

The authorities also aim to get inflation down to 20 per cent by the end of this fiscal year in July. Pakistan's current account deficit was 8.4 per cent of GDP last year, which the authorities are trying to get down to 5.5 per cent under IMF targets.

America’s frustration

The United States and Pakistan have been fighting the war on terror since 2001. Zardari was not leading Pakistan then. The damage was already done when he came to power. But the US was not bothered about the change of guard; it wanted results, especially after Barack Obama took charge.
So, despite the efforts of best efforts of Zardari, the US-Pakistan relationship touched a nadir due to the US belief that the army was not fully confronting the jihadist threat.

Good or bad, the fact is Zardari is the president of Pakistan. “Reviling him and calling him insane is not going to help the cause of Pakistan, especially when the country faces extremely difficult, almost insoluble economic and law and order problems,” says a report by Anwar Kemal in Arab News.

The question confronting Pakistan is not what Zardari is doing to the country; the question is what he will be doing for the country. Can Zardari bail out Pakistan?

Experts say he can but that’s going to be one Herculean task for him and his team. The Zardari government and the establishment will have to work around the existing situation – that of economic, social and political chaos, and above all terrorism.


Zardari says Pakistan’s survival depends on eliminating Taliban. From Swat, the Taliban are now all set to train their guns on Karachi, and finally Islamabad, according to a police report.

In a fresh attempt to destablise the country, the terrorists, in broad daylight, attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team when they were to play at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Tuesday. The biggest causality is cricket; the country stands to lose international games as well as the next World Cup. Cricket generates massive revenues for the country and is regarded a national game.

No cultural exchanges. No tourism and now no cricket. What else the Zardari government is waiting for?

According to Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi of Centre for Islamic Pluralism, there are two ways of defeating the Taliban in Pakistan. “A unification of all moderate Muslim factions appears utopian. The other is simpler and more realistic, but rejected by Zardari on the grounds that western intervention in Afghanistan and US involvement in Pakistan already contribute to the influence of radicals. That is foreign military action, uniting the US with NATO and other forces to restore some semblance of the stability that first Musharraf and later Zardari have let slip away”.

Foreign relations

As regards the US, Pakistan can never say a no. Firstly, because it can never match up to the US military and secondly, their financial situation has made them dependent on foreign aid, a big chunk of which comes from the US. Moreover, in order to avoid being labeled as a US poodle, “Zardari should convince the US of Pakistan’s eligibility of being more than just America’s ally in the war on terror,” says Sahiba Trivedi of Strategic Foresight Group, a Mumbai-based think tank.

Also, Pakistan should keep its ties with China cordial. It should use its relations with China as a covert blackmail tool to get its demands met by the US.

Since Indo-US relations are at their all time best, Pakistan cannot afford to be nasty with India. Pakistan stands up to gain by boosting cross border trade with India. “Zardari will have to walk a tightrope; using bilateral trade as a confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan which can work out to Zardari’s advantage internationally,” says Trivedi.

Political bickering

Zardari should not waste his energies on Pakistan’s internal politics. He should realise that there is more to his portfolio than just countering the Sharif brothers. As long as Pakistan's political leaders are struggling for their own survival, they will have little time for fighting the Taliban.

“He should galvanise his party, meet with the Opposition. There should be a consideration of a national government at this stage…they should unite on one platform -- which should be an anti-terror platform – which should be portrayed as a struggle to save Pakistan,” advises Ahmed Rashid, a political commentator.

President Zardari's wrestle for power from his political rivals won’t put him in a win win situation. It is still not too late for him to change course and settle issues on the home front, else he might find himself living once again in luxurious exile in his Madison Avenue apartment in New York.
(End of series)


Vikrant Mehta said...

I pray that India never go to Pakistan to play cricket. Pakistan should be banned from organising any cricket event in the future. Zardai is flopped from the word go. Now I think Musharraf, whatsoever people say about him, kept the country balanced for years. Now it has gone to the dogs. And Zardari is nothing but a pawn playing in the hands of ISI and The Talibans.

Vasant C Kunte said...

I would like to add here that Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari has miserably failed to protect his country from extremists. The day is not far when Pakistan will witness another coup. India should remain on alert as Zardari appears to be a teethless ruler and can't be trusted. 26/11 is a classic case of his dilly-dallying approach towards our country.

Anuj Dhar said...

The situation is pretty serious in Pakistan what with an unstable govt and Taliban waiting in the wings.

Shazneen Akhtar said...

I think very soon the Army will take over Pakistan. Zardari's no good. I don't think that a pusillanimous president like him can turn the tables around in Pakistan.

Kamraan Haider said...

I quite agree with the author that too much is being expected out of Zardari in too little time...But the person who comes on to govern a country like Pakistan should know that his country is sitting on a time bomb and he must act accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Pakistan has proved that it can be handled only by a dictatorial regime...The country doesn't deserve a democracy!

Ajita Jha said...

Zardari neither has the charisma nor the strength that his late wife Benazir had. I was surprised at the very election of this guy.

Wali said...

Terror as a state policy has failed Pakistan. It will take years to shade the 'legacy' behind. Till then, there will be bodies left behind by suicide bombings and drone attacks.