By Roedad Khan
Some leaders sail with the wind until the decisive moment when their conscience and events propel them into the centre of the storm. Altaf Hussain's fateful decision not to support Zardari on the infamous NRO issue was a masterly stroke in the game of politics. Otto von Bismarck famously said that political genius entailed hearing the hoofbeat of history and then rising to catch the galloping horseman by the coattails. This is what Altaf Bhai has done, to the surprise of friends and foes alike.
Altaf Bhai's friendly advice to President Asif Zardari to sacrifice his exalted office for the sake of the country and democracy reminds me of the fateful "Norway Debate” in the House of Commons in May 1940. Britain was at war, facing the full might of Nazi Germany. In the backdrop of the dismal picture of failure and retreat which confronted the nation, L S Amery, MP, delivered the historic speech which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Chamberlain and elevation of Churchill as prime minister. "I cast prudence to the winds," Amery wrote in his diary, "and ended full-out with my Cromwellian injunction to the government… 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.' "
"I say solemnly," Lloyd George who followed Amery, declared, "that the prime minister should give an example of sacrifice because there is nothing which can contribute more to victory in this war than that he should sacrifice his Seals of Office." President Lyndon Johnson had won an enormous election victory and proposed civil rights legislations and Great Society. Less than three years later, broken by the Vietnam War, realising the nation no longer trusted him, and unable to appear in public, he announced he would not seek re-election. What is President Zardari going to do?
All presidents fall from their honeymoon highs, but no elected president in history has fallen this low this fast. All presidents are opposed, of course, and many are disliked; but few suffer widespread attacks on their personal integrity or veracity. President Zardari is one of those few. Zardari knows well the man responsible for the trouble he is in. He looks at him everyday while shaving.
Talking about despotic rulers, like himself, Mussolini said just before he faced the firing squad: "Have you ever seen a prudent, calculating dictator, they all become mad, they lose their equilibrium in the clouds, quivering ambitions and obsessions – and it is actually that mad passion which brought them to where they are." Absolute power, unrestrained by law, must make people mad. Power is heady substance. How else can one explain Zardari's erratic behaviour and his massive blunders?
Sometimes, once in a long while, you get a chance to serve your country. Today President Zardari is the Atlas on whose shoulders the state of Pakistan rests! Few people had been offered the opportunity that lay open to Mr Zardari. He blew it. No wonder, the country is gripped by fear and uncertainty. If Zardari remains in command of the ship of state, we will all go down like the Titanic.
At a time when the country is at war, Mr Zardari, the Supreme Commander, spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker – which he seldom leaves these days. Mortally afraid of his own people and the sword of the NRO hanging over his head, he is more concerned about protecting himself and his power rather than protecting the country or the people of Pakistan.
Mr Zardari is so swathed in his inner circle that he has completely lost touch with the people and reality. He wanders around among small knots of persons who agree with him. His blunders are too obvious, his behaviour too erratic, his vision too blurred. He has painted himself into a corner.
A year after he captured the presidency, Zardari seems to have lost his "mandate of heaven." At a time when leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of vital importance to the very survival of the country, Pakistan is led by a president who lacks both credibility and integrity. What is worse, he seems oblivious to the realities of his awesome responsibilities and is only interested in perpetuating himself.
What is it that people really expected from their president in a national crisis? It is something that the national psyche needs. The people, especially those in the war zone, expect the occupant of the Presidency to share their suffering, to assure those trapped in the crossfire that they will survive; that they will get through it. He has to be a Chief Executive who is in command, who reacts promptly, who alleviates human suffering. Above all, he must inspire confidence and hope. And so, he has to be that larger-than-life figure, which Zardari is not. No president and no prime minister can govern from a bunker.
These are critical days in Pakistan. Isn't it a great tragedy that at a time like this there is a loveless relationship between the rulers and the ruled? There is no steady hand on the tiller of government. The survival of the country, its sovereignty, its stunted democracy, its hard-won independent judiciary, all are on the line. Tragically, in our political life, we prefer to wait until things reach the emergency room. Each man feels what is wrong, and knows what is required to be done, but none has the will or the courage or the energy needed to speak up and say enough is enough. All have lofty ideals, hopes, aspirations, desires, which produce no visible or durable results, like old men's passions ending in impotence.
"Fortune is a fickle courtesan," Napoleon said on the eve of the battle of Borodino. "I have always said so and now I am beginning to experience it." When I watched Zardari a few days ago on TV, he was visibly undergoing a similar experience and looked like the captain of a sinking ship, the wind of defeat in his hair. How fortunes fluctuate! The calendar says Zardari will be around for another four years, but the writing on the wall shows the party is almost over.
For Mr Zardari, the accidental president of Pakistan, the moment of truth has arrived. His presidency is collapsing all around us; the wolf is at the door.
The presidency is more than an honour, it is more than an office. It is a charge to keep. Asif Zardari's sudden ascension to presidency caused panic among the people. Thrown there by accident, he is grotesquely unsuited for his position. Henry Adams once wrote that the essence of leadership in the presidency is "a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." President Zardari grasped the helm more then a year ago but the country still doesn't know whether he has an inner compass, or a course to steer or a port to seek. It is now abundantly clear that he is not worthy of the trust placed in him by his people. He carries a serious baggage, dogged for years by charges of corruption until they were abruptly dropped under the NRO, which he tried to get validated through the Parliament but failed. No democrat should come to power through such an array of backroom machinations, deals with Generals or foreign powers. No wonder, too many people reject Zardari's political legitimacy.