By Zafar Hilaly
Mr Zardari believed, when no one else did, that he could stop the restoration of the chief justice, and that he could have the NRO passed and live to tell the tale. Mr Zardari seems to have forgotten that though he inherited Benazir's party and supporters, he did not inherit their love for her. The fact is that Mr Zardari was never a serious political figure. Nor could he become one on borrowed laurels. The PPP under him may not be politically dead, but it is brain dead.
It is said that Mr Zardari, a fighter, will not quit. That may be true. However, he would be well advised to do so. Popularity can be reclaimed, but respect, never. In Mr Zardari's case, the point of no return was crossed earlier this week when the move to table the NRO floundered.
There are many reasons why Mr Zardari should depart voluntarily. To begin with, it would enable the PPP to elect another leader, even if his job will be to keep the seat warm for Bilawal who, one suspects, would prefer to be elected rather than inherit his post. An elected leader would carry far more respect within the party.
More importantly, Pakistan would be spared the political crisis that now seems inevitable. The impending turmoil not only threatens to divert public and army attention from the task at hand, but it also destroy prospects of a united stand which is the need of the hour as Pakistan confronts perhaps the most grievous challenge to its existence.
With the prospect of yet another Sindhi leader forced out of office prematurely, provincialism, never far below the surface in our society, may raise its ugly head. The courts too may find themselves pitted against a segment of the people. Equally, the administration of the state, shoddy and incompetent as it is, will become more so as the bureaucracy senses that there is no firm hand at the helm. And the armed forces, keen to remain formally outside the fray, will likely be involved, to a far more visible extent than they are already, if the crisis were to take a turn for the worse, or become violent.
Externally, too, the fragile nature of the present dispensation is a cause for concern and the likelihood that instability will increase, as the chorus for Mr Zardari's departure grows, will make it infinitely more so. It is no secret that donor countries and the Friends of Pakistan have reservations about the ability of the present setup to use assistance productively and responsibly. The fact is that pledges made are not forthcoming; nor has the IMF given the all-clear as yet. On the other hand, Mr Zardari's departure may well be regarded as a positive development leading to better governance. Anyway, how could it be worse?
However cooperative and pliable Mr Zardari has been, Washington cannot afford to be associated with leaders in both Islamabad and Kabul whose unpopularity among their own people has reached iconic dimensions. The Americans have been trying desperately to dispel the impression that Mr Zardari, as much as Mr Karzai, owes his job to America. Hence, any interference by Washington to ensure that they retain their posts will undermine these efforts. Noticeably, the Americans have gone out of their way to ensure that they remain on good terms with the likely successors of Messrs Zardari and Karzai. Traipsing off to Raiwind every so often for visiting Americans did have a purpose, after all.
It has been said that India too wishes to have a stronger partner than Mr Zardari before it will re-engage. However, in view of Indian machinations to keep the pot of insurgency boiling by pouring in arms and funds, such a claim can be discounted. Few believe any longer that India ever had such an intention, and that the departure or presence of Mr Zardari makes a difference.
Defenders of the status quo, which mostly means those who want to hang on to their jobs, aver that the government should be allowed to complete its term; and, of course, it should, unless there is a constitutional method by which it is cut short. Mr Zardari, for example, may discover that his party's government does not have the votes to win a vote of confidence in parliament. But because that would enable him to stay on while Mr Gilani takes the rap for his miscalculations, it won't work. Moreover, Mr Gilani, who fancies himself and his own prospects, is willing to be neither a scapegoat nor a martyr. Anyway, how would his departure help the PPP to remain in power?
Fate or destiny, whatever one may wish to call it, has taken Mr Zardari far. About him, more than anyone else in Pakistan's political life, it can be said that he was a man who believed that in life there is no security, only opportunity, which he grasped with both hands. Once again he has an opportunity, this time to let go the office that he had earlier seized so cleverly, and earn the grudging respect of his nation by ensuring that "Pakistan khappe." As Mr Zardari reflects on his choices one can suggest to him the thoughts of a great Roman emperor (Marcus Aurelius) who said: "Everything that happens, happens as it should; and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so."