Nov 1, 2009

Rise and fall

Readers will recall my repeated warnings that a man with Zardari’s reputation, who has no educational or political background and lacks all the other prerequisites of leadership, will be an absolute disaster in a minor office, let alone the top position in the country. This has proved to be true in a short period leading to a nationwide upheaval. His claim to fame rests entirely on being the husband of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and spending eight years in jail. Let us look at these laurels a bit closely.

Shaheed Benazir, in her book Daughter of the East, says that she married him because of relentless pressure from her mother and aunts, and because of his own persistence. It is surprising, however, that she was unable to control him during her two terms in office, during which time he came to be called Mr Ten Percent. For the veracity of this epithet, let us not depend on the corruption cases against him, even though two—the Surrey Palace and money-laundering cases in Jersey and Switzerland—stand proved, but listen to the laments of the people at large and even jiyalas.

Accepting the principle that there is no smoke without fire and the fact that before marriage, the Zardari family had nothing to show but a cinema house in Karachi, many questions arise about his lifestyle not only in the country but more so abroad. For instance, he recently took a planeload of people for Umra and claimed to have paid for their travel out of his own pocket–approximately twenty five million rupees–and also gave five million rupees to his old school, THE Cadet College, Petaro. During these days of worldwide economic collapse, when even international banks have been wiped out, for someone to throw money around in this manner indicates a huge reservoir of wealth. Added to the corruption cases are the four murder charges against him, including that of Shaheed Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who was gunned down by the police in broad daylight, at a time when Murtaza’s sister was prime minister of Pakistan. It is very significant that now all the involved policemen not only walk free but have been handsomely rewarded. All the above is a matter of record and cannot be denied or concealed.

It is claimed that the two years Zardari spent in jails and six in a luxury hospital in Islamabad are a sacrifice for the nation, which establish his being in the highest offices in the country. No one cares that such a concession is extremely dangerous since it opens the portals of power to all kinds of characters. Of course, the beneficiaries of Zardari’s meteoric assent from purgatory to the Presidency explain away that he was not convicted in the long period of ten years and is therefore innocent. Not quite so. It cannot be concealed that he was not acquitted either, and he and his cohorts have been reprieved only by the unconstitutional and immoral NRO. Besides, in public life it is what people believe and the disgrace faced that matter, not conviction. He was elected president on an indirect vote of assembly members. He got a mandate to avenge the murder of Shaheed Benazir and provide “roti, kapra, makan” to the people (they have done neither). If even at the emotionally charged time of the polls this question had been put to the people the answer would definitely have been in the negative as people hold the president guilty as charged and also responsible for the murder of his wife, whose killers he professes to know. The belief is strengthened by the fact that no complaint has been filed in almost two years, which normally is a knee-jerk reaction to even a petty crime, let alone the murder of an international leader and mother of his children, and in whose name he continues to thrive. As for the long duration of the trials, eight years is no big deal. We all know and, speaking from personal experience, cases in our courts go on forever. However, the delay was compounded by Zardari himself, who claimed mental illness, heart trouble and back pain (all of which have suddenly disappeared) to obstruct progress and conviction.

As for the distress of imprisonment, here too there is no cause for complaint, he being most of the time ensconced in a luxury hospital where all the comforts of a five-star hotel were available, together with unrestricted visitors and frequent releases on parole, with first-class travel at government expense.

Starting with Zardari’s negative stand on the judges’ issue, despite repeated promises to the contrary, dodging the repeal of the 17th Amendment and Article 58(2)(b), failure to provide any relief to the masses, right up to plunging the country into civil war, it has become impossible to keep him afloat. The honourable thing for him to do is to quit and take with him the team of his partners who surround him. What is desperately required in the present mess is a leader in the true sense of the word, who commands trust and respect.

The chaos that is rampant today is the consequence of not only the president being unfit for the job but also the concept of “reconciliation.” This has given us a political setup, devoid of ideology and principals in which it is proudly proclaimed there is no last word, allowing lots of space for playing tricks. “Reconciliation” is merely an invitation to come and sit at the banquet of government and indulge to the limit. The main purpose is to rope in all dissent so that no one is left out to complain. As a consequence we have the proponents of Nizam-e-Mustafa/Shariat, leftists, rightists, nationalists, adventures with no commitment to the people, who believe only in being with the government of the day to enjoy the perks of power. Such a conglomerate of clashing interests is a non-starter ab initio. Apart from the huge costs to the exchequer of providing ministerial portfolios to all and sundry and accommodating everyone to his satisfaction, it is impossible to have a lasting state of harmony among these basically conflicting interests, as we see today.

There is nothing for the people in “reconciliation” as the experience of almost two years has proved. Never before have the people of Pakistan been so deprived and destitute and the government of the day so helpless and useless. There is no surprise that reconciliation has blown up and the country is at the crossroads of uncertainty and panic as never before. This scenario was easy to predicted at the start when, of all people, Zardari become the master of the destiny of one hundred and seventy million Pakistanis.

By Nawab Mumtaz Ali Bhutto

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