Posts Tagged ‘Asif Ali Zardari’

Mr. 10%: Our Man in Islamabad

December 25, 2009

Eric Margolis, The Huffington Post, Dec 23, 2009

In my office hang photos of this writer with Pakistan’s last four leaders. Two of them – Zia ul Haq and Benazir Bhutto – were murdered. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted in a military coup led by photo number four, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was deposed last year by Pakistan’s military.

Either leading Pakistan is a job with very poor career prospects, or I’m a jinx. Take your pick.

Now, in a delicious irony, Washington is finally getting the democracy it has been calling for in Pakistan – and it’s the Mother of all Backfires.

I’ve not met Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. But I’ve written for decades about corruption charges that relentlessly dog him. At one point, I was threatened with having acid thrown in my face if I kept writing about the Bhutto-Zardari’s financial scandals.

Asif Ali Zardari became known to one and all as “Mr. 10%” from the time when he was a minister in his wife’s government, in charge of approving government contracts. Critics say the 10% and other kickbacks produced millions for the Zardari-Bhutto family.

But Benazir Bhutto repeatedly insisted to me that she and her husband – who was tortured and jailed for years on corruption charges – were innocent and victims of political persecution in Pakistan’s utterly corrupt legal system where “justice” goes to the biggest payer of bribes, and politicians use courts to punish their rivals. Small wonder so many Pakistanis are calling for far more honest Islamic justice.

In 2008, Washington sought to rescue Musharraf’s foundering dictatorship by convincing the popular but still self-exiled Benazir Bhutto to front for him as democratic window-dressing for continued military rule. Her price: amnesty for a long list of corruption charges against her and her husband. The US and Britain quietly arranged the amnesty for the Bhuttos and thousands of their indicted supporters (and other political figures).

Just before her assassination, Benazir told me jealous associates of Musharraf were gunning for her.

Asif Zardari then inherited Benazir’s Pakistan People’s Party, the nation’s largest. He became president, thanks to strong US and British political and financial support.

Zardari repaid this support by facilitating the US war in Afghanistan, and allowed the Pentagon to keep using Pakistan’s bases and military personnel, without which the war in Afghanistan could not be prosecuted. Washington promised Pakistan’s elite, pro-western leadership at least $8 billion.

That sleazy deal has now come unstuck thanks to Pakistan’s newest, rather improbable democratic hero, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. As chief justice of the Supreme Court under Musharraf, he was expected to rubber stamp government decisions.

Instead, Justice Chaudhry began enforcing the law by reinstating the dismissed corruption charges and examining the legality of Musharraf’s self-appointed second term.
Musharraf, with shameful backing from Washington and London, had Justice Chaudhry kicked off the bench. He, and a score of fellow judges who would not toe the line, were placed under house arrest. Some were beaten. Their pensions were canceled.

But the ebbing of Zardari’s power has resulted in the reinstatement by parliament of Justice Chaudhry, who promptly reinstated all the old charges. For the first time, Pakistan was tasting the true institutions of democracy at work.

Zardari has presidential immunity against criminal charges. But his chief lieutenants face prosecution, notably regime strongman, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar. Both are key supporters and facilitators of US military operations in Afghanistan, America’s use of Pakistani bases, and Pakistan’s war against its own rebellious Pashtun tribesmen (AKA “Taliban”).

Opposition parties are demanding Zardari and senior aides resign. Islamabad is in an uproar just when Washington needs Pakistan’s government to intensify the war against the so-called Pakistani Taliban and support President Barack Obama’s expanded war in Afghanistan. Washington is also intensifying drone attacks inside Pakistan, that are provoking fierce public outrage against the US, and weighing air attacks on Baluchistan Province.

Skeletons are dancing out of Zardari’s closets: $63 million in illegal kickbacks and commissions allegedly hidden in Swiss bank accounts; accusation of laundering $13.7 million in Switzerland. Charges of kickbacks on helicopter and warplane deals. In 2003, Swiss magistrates found Zardari and Bhutto guilty of money laundering, sentencing them to a six month suspended jail term, a fine of $50,000, and ordering them to repay $11 million to Pakistan’s government.

Zardari has an estimated personal fortune of $2 billion; luxurious properties in the US, France, Spain and Britain, and on it goes. He avoided trial in Switzerland by claiming mental illness.

In 2008, Gen. Musharraf had all charges against the Bhuttos dropped as part of the US-engineered plan for a diumverate with Benazir.

The Bhuttos remain one of the largest feudal landowners in a desperately poor nation where annual income is US$1,027 and illiteracy over 50%. Pakistan has been ruled since its creation in 1947 by either callous feudal landlords, who bought and sold politicians like bags of Basmati rice, or by generals.

It appears that Zardari’s days as Washington’s man in Islamabad are numbered. Anti-American fury is surging, with popular claims that Pakistan has been “occupied” by the US, treated like a third-rate banana republic, and is run by corrupt, US-installed stooges and crooks. Shades of Iran under the Shah, and Egypt under Sadat.

Many Pakistanis blame the current bloody wave of bombings in their nation on US mercenaries from Xe (formerly Blackwater), and old foe India staging attacks in revenge for decades of bombings in Kashmir, Punjab and its eastern hill states by Pakistani intelligence.

Most Pakistanis believe Washington is bent on tearing apart their unstable nation to seize its nuclear weapons.

Washington is almost back to square one in turbulent Pakistan. When Zardari goes or is kicked upstairs as an impotent figurehead, attention will turn to Pakistan’s 617,000-man military and its commander, Gen – or should we say “president-elect” Ashfaq Kiyani? He is already in almost constant contact with the Pentagon.

In 2010, the ugly acronym, “Afpak,” will bedevil, befuddle, and consume the Obama White House that so unwisely and rashly ignored Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s wise warning to avoid land wars in Asia.

As the US expands the Afghan War, its strategic rear area in Pakistan is up in flames.

Pakistan corruption amnesty expires

November 28, 2009
Al Jazeera, Nov 28, 2009
Some experts say Zardari’s eligibility for
office could be called into question[AFP]

An amnesty on corruption cases protecting the Pakistani president and thousands of  government bureaucrats and politicians is set to expire, threatening to cause a major political crisis in the country.

The so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance could be extended by the parliament, but the government is seen as too weak to win an extension after Saturday’s deadline.

Last week, a minister of state published the names of 8,041 people who have benefited from the amnesty, including Asif Ali Zardari, the president, and four cabinet ministers.

The list is connected to 3,478 cases ranging from murder, embezzlement, abuse of power and write-offs of bank loans worth millions of dollars.

Continues >>

Any joke about Zardari a criminal offence in Pakistan

August 25, 2009

This letter is now illegal in Pakistan

From Tanveer Ansari | London Review of Books, Vol. 31, No. 15, August 6, 2009

Tariq Ali’s Diary notwithstanding, Asif Ali Zardari’s misdemeanours can no longer be satirised (LRB, 23 July). Helpless citizens who have been exchanging anti-Zardari jokes in which he is referred to as a dacoit, Mr Ten Per Cent, Mr Thirty Per Cent, as a US drone, a thief, a liar, a womaniser, a murderer, are to be deprived of this liberty. Rehman Malik, Zardari’s business associate, whose day job is to act as the country’s interior minister, has pushed through a new law that makes the circulation and transmission of ‘ill-motivated and concocted stories against the civilian leadership’ illegal; the authors of such stories will be ‘punished’.

It is a truly atrocious law and a serious blow to what few civil liberties and modes of expression we have left. It is unbelievable that it should have been passed so quietly, without any opposition in the National Assembly. Spoofing, spamming, and having an email address registered to a name other than the one on your passport are also punishable with jail sentences. The real joke is that these measures will increase the circulation of satirical jokes a hundredfold: they will travel by word of mouth, as they did in the days before mobile phones and the internet. Those who have been texting Zardari directly will, sadly, now have to search for other means to communicate with their leader. This letter is now illegal. Whether articles such as Ali’s are also proscribed has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile Muhammad Aslam, Benazir Bhutto’s former protocol officer and himself a lawyer, who was on guard duty on her jeep’s running board the day she was murdered, has publicly accused Rehman Malik, among others, of being a prime suspect in the case. Aslam has demanded that the police register a case against the interior minister. The worms are crawling out of the can, which might help explain the rush to introduce the new law.

Tanveer Ansari
Karachi

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We Muslims who despair of terrorism

September 22, 2008

The Independent, Monday Sep 22, 2008

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The admired Scots-Pakistani novelist Suhayl Saadi and his wife, Alina Mirza, who runs a Pakistani film festival in Glasgow, are dear friends. They got married at the Marriot in Islamabad, just bombed by Islamicist murderers who sent in a delivery of lethal explosives in a lorry, during Ramadan. Nice work, guys. Allah will surely reward you aplenty for the slaughter of the blameless, sent off with less ceremony than goats and chickens who, at least, are prayed for as their throats are cut. Ah but they only razed a temple of Western decadence, and many Muslims who worked or went there weren’t “real” Muslims, only Shias and disobedient women, reprobates and sinners for sure.

The couple are devastated, rendered hopeless – for the first time that I can remember. For years, in spite of Pakistan’s many failures, they have kept up a fierce optimism, as if heartfelt belief would, one day, drive away the evil forces that circulate and in parts overrun their ancestral homeland.

There are many more like them, Pakistani-Britons who are proud of the culture of Pakistan, its creative movers and shakers, and millions of extraordinary, generous people. But their pride and idealism are fast draining away.

My father came from Karachi. He fled the place in the 1920s and went back only once, a fortnight before he died in 1970. He never recovered from the experience. It was as if his heart gave up. The country was in the grip of the military again and savagery ruled. It still does. I have never felt the desire to go look for cousins, aunts and uncles.

The newly elected President, Asif Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, new best friend of the United States, is one of that nation’s dodgiest characters. He replaced a military dictator, who replaced another allegedly corrupt politician, Nawaz Sharif, now a big player in the latest political configuration.

Armageddon is on its way as Pakistan dissolves at its north-western borders into that lawless territory that is Afghanistan. American interventions, demands and military incontinence in the region bolster Islamic reactionaries and guerrillas.

India meanwhile, with many similar endemic problems and ruthless governance in Kashmir, nevertheless flowers economically and still holds on to democracy and fundamental freedoms. Sadly Pakistan “proves” what the rest of the world believes, and not without reason, that Muslims are incapable of decent leadership or progressive politics and move instinctively to political and personal tyranny.

Look around and the evidence punches you in both eyes. Saudi Arabia, Iran and various nations in the Middle East and most “Islamic” states elsewhere are failing entities where the people are either afraid or oppressing others. I, a Muslim who fights daily against the unjust treatment of Muslims in the West, have to face the blinding truth that although we have serious external enemies, more Muslims are hurt, wounded, killed and denied by other Muslims who feel themselves to be virtuous.

Lest our detractors rub their hands with satisfaction, I tell them loud and clear, this is not exoneration of Guantanamo Bay, the destruction of Iraq, Belmarsh, Israel’s criminal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, the fascists in Cologne who tried this week to run an anti-Islam rally, the viciously anti-Muslim BNP and the many ways Europe humiliates us Muslims.

But I am saying that Muslims enthusiastically participate in “rendition”, torture co-religionists in prisons, bomb fellow-worshippers from Iraq to Pakistan and beyond, subjugate their women, cut off hands and necks, keep their young cowering or brainwash them to the point when they are unfit to inhabit this century. If we respect and care for our own so little why should the rest of the world give a damn?

Asif Ali Zardari: the godfather as president

September 9, 2008

He may be a pliant partner for the west, but with his record of corruption, Zardari is the worst possible choice for Pakistan

Tariq Ali | Guardian, uk, Sunday September 07 2008 09:35 BST

Asif Ali Zardari – singled out by fate to become Benazir Bhutto’s husband and who, subsequently, did everything he could to prevent himself from being returned to obscurity – is about to become the new President of Pakistan. Oily-mouthed hangers-on, never in short supply in Pakistan, will orchestrate a few celebratory shows and the ready tongues of old cronies (some now appointed ambassadors to western capitals) will speak of how democracy has been enhanced. Zardari’s close circle of friends, with whom he shared the spoils of power the last time around and who have remained loyal, refusing all inducements to turn state’s evidence in the corrruption cases against him, will also be delighted. Small wonder then that definitions of democracy in Pakistan differ from person to person.
There will be no expressions of joy on the streets to mark the transference of power from a moth-eaten general to a worm-eaten politician. The affection felt in some quarters for the Bhutto family is non-transferable. If Benazir were still alive, Zardari would not have been given any official post. She had been considering two other senior politicians for the presidency. Had she been more democratically inclined she would never have treated her political party so scornfully, reducing it to the status of a family heirloom, bequeathed to her son, with her husband as the regent till the boy came of age.

This, and this alone, has aided Zardari’s rise to the top. He was disliked by many of his wife’s closest supporters in the People’s Party (or the Bhutto Family Party, as it is referred to by disaffected members) even when she was alive. They blamed his greed and godfatherish behaviour to explain her fall from power on two previous occasions, which I always thought was slightly unfair. She knew. It was a joint enterprise. She was never one to regard politics alone as the consuming passion of her life and always envied the lifestyle and social behaviour of the very rich. And he was shameless in his endeavours to achieve that status.

Today, he is the second richest person in the country, with estates and bank accounts littered on many continents, including a mansion in Surrey worth several million. Many of Benazir’s inner circle, sidelined by the new boss (Zardari did rub their noses in excrement by having his apolitical sister elected from Larkana, hitherto a pocket borough of the Bhutto family) actively hate him. Benazir’s uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto (head of the clan) has sharply denounced him. Some even encourage the grotesque view that he was in some way responsible for her death. This is foolish. He is only trying to fulfill her legacy. He was certainly charged with ordering the murder of his brother-in-law, Murtaza Bhutto, when Benazir was prime minister, but the case was never tried. Characteristically, one of Zardari’s first acts after his party’s victory in the February polls was to appoint Shoaib Suddle, the senior police officer connected to the Murtaza Bhutto ambush and killing, as the boss of the Federal Intelligence Agency. Loyalty is always repaid in full.

In the country at large, his standing, always low, has sunk still further. The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million citizens may be poor, illiterate or semi-literate, but their instincts are usually sound. An opinion poll carried out by the New America Foundation some months ago revealed Zardari’s approval ratings at a low ebb – less than 14%. These figures confirm the view that he is the worst possible slice of Pakistan’s crumbly nationhood. The people has had no say in his election. parliamentary cabals have already determined the result. I do not take too seriously the recent revelation that a psychiatrist had pronounced him suffering from acute dementia, incapable of recognising his children due to a chronic loss of memory. This was, as is known, designed for the courtroom had he been prosecuted in London or Geneva for large-scale money-laundering and corruption. All that is in abeyance now, since he has been elevated into a crucial figure in the “war on terror”.

A small mystery remained. Why did the US suddenly withdraw support from General Musharraf? An answer was provided on August 26 by Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times. The State Department, according to this report, was not in favour of an undignified and hasty departure, but unknown to them a hardcore neocon faction led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the Security Council, was busy advising Asif Zardari in secret and helping him plan the campaign to oust the general:

“Mr Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples party, several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorised contacts, a senior United States official said, “Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?” … Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry email message to Mr Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personal?” Copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department; the message was provided to the New York Times by an administration official who had received a copy.”

Khalilzad is an inveterate factionalist and a master of intrigue. Having implanted Hamid Karzai in Kabul (with dire results as many in Washington now admit), he had been livid with Musharraf for refusing to give 100% support to his Afghan protege. Khalilzad now saw an opportunity to punish Musharraf and simultaneously try and create a Pakistani equivalent of Karzai.

Zardari fitted the bill. He is perfectly suited to being a total creature of Washington. The Swiss government helpfully decided to release millions of dollars from Zardari’s bank accounts that had, till now, been frozen due to the pending corruption cases. Like his late wife, Zardari, too, is now being laundered, just like the money he made when last in office as minister for investment. This weakness will make him a pliant president of Pakistan.

The majority of the population is deeply hostile to the US/Nato presence in Afghanistan. Almost 80% favour a negotiated settlement and withdrawal of all foreign troops. Three days ago, a team of US commandos entered Pakistan “in search of terrorists” and 20 innocents were killed. Zardari was being tested. But if he permits US troops to enter the frontier province on “search-and-destroy” missions his career will be short-lived and the military will return in some shape or form. The High Command cannot afford to ignore the growing anger within its junior ranks at being forced to kill their own people.

The president of Pakistan was designed in the 1972 constitution as an ornamental figure. Military dictators subverted and altered the constitution to their advantage. Will Zardari revert to his late father-in-law’s constitution or preserve its existing powers?

The country desperately needs a president capable of exercizing some moral authority and serving as the conscience of the country. The banished chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, automatically comes to mind, as do the figures of Imran Khan and IA Rehman (the chairman of the Human Rights Commission), but the governing elite and its self-serving backers in Washington have always been blind to the real needs of this country. They should be careful. The sparks flying across the Afghan border might ignite a fire that is difficult to control.

Tariq Ali’s latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flightpath of American Power, will be published by Simon and Schuster on September 15

Mad and bad – but the West will turn a blind eye

September 7, 2008

Dogged by allegations of crime and corruption, Pakistan’s new president could lose power to his army if he fails his restive people

Jamima Khan | The Independent, Sep 7, 2008

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President Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, formerly known as Mr Ten Per Cent because of kickbacks received during his wife’s time in office, has become one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous men in the subcontinent. Mad and bad. And now omnipotent. He is head of state, supreme commander of the armed forces, has the power to dismiss parliament, appoint the heads of the army and election commission – and, as chairman of the National Command Authority, has the final say in the deployment of nuclear weapons.

Earlier Zardari vowed to relinquish the executive powers that Pervez Musharraf gave to the originally ceremonial presidency. Now he’s evasive. Despite the fact that he has little public support (14 per cent, according to a recent poll), holds no seat in parliament and has no mandate other than his association with the Bhutto name, he had every right to nominate himself or anyone else as President. His party – inherited from his late wife – was democratically elected in February and has the largest number of seats in parliament.

The man who now has his finger on the nuclear button was only last year declared unfit to stand trial in a UK court on account of multiple mental problems. According to court documents filed by his psychiatrists, he suffers from dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress after spending 11 of the past 20 years in jail in Pakistan. According to their testimony last year, he found it hard even to recall the names of his wife and children.

He has long had memory problems. In the past he has been unable to recall whether he was the owner of a multimillion-pound Surrey estate (he thought not, but later took possession of it) or if $60m (£34m) in a frozen Swiss bank account was actually his. He also thought that he had graduated from the London School of Economics, or was it the London School of Business Studies? There are no records of his doing either.

The doctors’ diagnoses of severe mental ill-health rid Zardari of his corruption case in the UK. Last November’s National Reconciliation Ordinance, brokered by the Americans to allow Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and passed by Musharraf, rid him of the rest. It also guaranteed him lifelong immunity from prosecution for corruption. He appears to have made medical history and rid himself of his dementia in time to become President. The only thing he can’t shake off is his appalling reputation.

Zardari has long been dogged by allegations of crime and corruption. In 2003, a Swiss magistrate found him guilty in absentia of laundering $10m. Musharraf’s National Accountability Bureau estimated that he had looted up to $1.5bn from the treasury during his wife’s two terms in office. In 1990, he was in trouble for allegedly tying a remote-controlled bomb to the leg of a businessman and sending him into a bank to withdraw money from his account as a pay-off. More sinisterly, he was charged with complicity in the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto, but the case was never tried. He was also implicated in the 1996 murder of a judge, Justice Nizam Ahmed, and his lawyer son.

Even if Zardari is given the benefit of the doubt and has changed after his wife’s assassination and his many years in jail, his behaviour in the run-up to his election as President proves he still can’t be trusted. He has already reneged on several written agreements made with the coalition, including his pledge to field a non-partisan candidate for president, as well as his pre-election promise to reinstate the judges deposed by Musharraf. If reinstated, they could repeal the amnesty granted to him and reopen corruption investigations.

Inside Pakistan, people are despondent. The economic situation is worse than ever, with inflation at almost 25 per cent. Outside Pakistan, despite his reputation, he is tolerated. He’s seen as pro-West. He will be another “key ally in the war on terror”.

America is stepping up its military campaign in the region, not least because George Bush wants Osama bin Laden’s grizzled head before the US presidential election on 4 November. Strikes against Pakistan’s tribal areas by US/Nato forces are not uncommon, but on Wednesday, for the first time, ground forces attacked a village on the Pakistani side of the border, in South Waziristan, killing 20 innocent people. Tribesmen are up in arms – literally – and have promised revenge, and there has been widespread condemnation. If Zardari is seen to be tolerating such attacks by foreign troops inside Pakistan, a violent backlash is likely.

On Friday, he pledged to eliminate the Taliban. A tall order. Since Musharraf joined the “war on terror” at US bidding and expense and sent Pakistani troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pashtun tribesmen have been falling over their Kalashnikovs to join the Taliban. With hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people from Bajaur as a result of conflict, weekly reports of aerial attacks and collateral damage, the Taliban movement is growing in strength by the day.

And it’s not just the formidable Pashtuns on the warpath. The Taliban is operating on fertile soil. Nationwide, 71 per cent of Pakistanis oppose co-operating with the US in counterterrorism and 51 per cent oppose fighting the Taliban at all, according to a June Gallup poll. The vast majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people may not like the Taliban, but they dislike the US and what is seen as its proxy army even more. Even within the army, there are rebels who object to being forced to kill their own people. The majority of the population is also deeply opposed to what it sees as a foreign occupation in Afghanistan, with more than 80 per cent favouring a negotiated settlement and withdrawal.

Suicide attacks within Pakistan – unheard of before 9/11 – are now so commonplace they barely make the front pages. From the wilds of the tribal areas to the mosques of west London, the war on terror has been hopelessly counterproductive, despite being fuelled by millions of dollars. Its chief beneficiaries have been the Taliban and their sympathisers who feed on the instability.

Zardari has replaced Musharraf, but their policies will be the same. He is unlikely to prove more successful at tackling extremism. His already meagre popularity rating is expected to dwindle rapidly as he is increasingly perceived as another US stooge. And despite all his powers, he is still less powerful than the army. As ever, if the politicians fail to steer Pakistan through its myriad problems, the military, which has notched up 33 years of rule in Pakistan’s 61-year history, will step in.

What is depressing is not that everything now changes with the election of Asif Ali Zardari, but that everything stays the same.

Analysis: Pakistan’s future leader?

September 6, 2008
Al Jazeera, Sep 5, 2008
The alliance between Zardari (left) and Sharif collapsed over the failure to reinstate deposed judges [GALLO/GETTY]

President Asif Ali Zardari.It is a description that has led to much disquiet in Pakistan ever since the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) named him their candidate for the highest office.

The presidential election, which follows the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, the former president, last month after nine years in power, will be held on September 6 and legislators will be asked to cast their ballots.

Historically, the day is observed as Defence of Pakistan Day.

However, apart from party loyalists, few have been able to defend the PPP decision to allow Benazir Bhutto’s widower to occupy the most powerful office in Pakistan.

The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces, the head of the National Command Authority — theoretically, with a finger on the nuclear button — and has the power to dismiss the government and parliament.

He also makes the most critical appointments from armed forces chiefs and provincial governors to the country’s chief justice.

Such wide-ranging powers for a man with a controversial past and an even more controversial present has led to much discontent about what awaits Pakistan after his election as president.

Trust deficit

Pakistan election facts
Pakistan’s electoral college is made up of two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies.

The National Assembly is the lower house, and the Senate is the upper house.

In all, 700 votes are up for grabs (but for the two seats in the National Assembly still waiting bye-polls) under the formula governing presidential election.

Given the party position and affiliations, if all legislators vote according to party lines, Zardari should be able to secure at least 424 votes, against 150 of PML-N’s Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and 126 by PML-Q’s Senator Mushahid Hussain.

Zardari anointed himself the party’s de facto leader following Bhutto’s assassination last December citing a handwritten will she purportedly wrote.Many doubt it is genuine.

He then sidelined her circle of trusted lieutenants and repeatedly reneged on public pledges of restoring deposed judges.

Almost every newspaper of national reckoning has balked at the prospect of Zardari occupying the presidency, given the gnawing credibility gap and his uncertain mental health following revelations made by the Financial Times last month.

Zardari was diagnosed in 2007 with serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in medical reports spanning over two years.

According to the paper, court records showed Zardari had used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him for alleged corruption.

The PPP denies Zardari’s health is in doubt but pointedly evades any discussion on the specifics of the medical records.

The elections have so worried some that even, Shaheen Sehbai, the group editor of The News, a leading Pakistani newspaper, and a self-professed Zardari friend, called on the army “to restore balance”.

“Let the power of the guns and barrels be used, for a change, in the interest of the nation and the people. It is obvious that the politicians cannot clean the dirt as they are neither visionaries, nor that tall, nor experienced, nor prepared nor motivated to look beyond their noses,” Sehbai argued.

Fantastic script

For Zardari, the spoils of the highest office would mark the culmination of a fantastic script even by Pakistan’s notoriously, unpredictable plots: from a playboy to president.

After marrying Bhutto in 1987, he quickly became a prime mover-and-shaker when only a year later she rose to become the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister. Bhutto was ousted on corruption charges in 1990.

Bhutto won a second term in 1993 when her nemesis, Nawaz Sharif, was also shown the door, but three years later her own handpicked president sacked her government on similar charges of misrule. Subsequently, Zardari was jailed and Bhutto went into exile.

The charges, which the Bhutto couple always asserted were politically motivated, could not be proved. Zardari was released in 2004 after spending eight years in jail.

Comeback trail

The two won a reprieve when decade-old corruption cases were quashed in 2007 under a controversial deal with Musharraf.

This was part of the former president’s so-called national reconciliation drive overseen by foreign powers to facilitate a new power equation to continue the war-on-terror with the ex-general as president and Bhutto his new prime minister.

Bhutto was assassinated following a public rally in Rawalpindi on December 27 and Musharraf resigned under the threat of impeachment only last month.

His defeat came after a sweeping rejection of his allies in the February 18 polls, which returned his sworn opponents to power.

Following Bhutto’s assassination, Zardari returned to take the reins of the PPP and stunned his party by producing a handwritten will, which purportedly, directed the party to follow her husband’s lead until they decided with consensus on a new leader.

Far from evolving consensus, Zardari quickly anointed their 19-year-old son Bilawal as the party’s chairman while he pledged to look after the party until the young scion completed his education in faraway Oxford.

The co-chairman has since sidelined the inner circle of his slain spouse, prominent among them Amin Fahim, a veteran who led the party in Bhutto’s absence, and was primed to become the PM.

Despite consolidating his hold on the party, critics noted how Zardari did not trust any member of his party to be even a covering candidate, let alone run for the highest office.

He named Faryal Talpur, his sister, to be the alternate candidate.

Hour of reckoning

Not everyone is convinced that Zardari has earned his spurs. Yousuf Nazar, an economist and author of The Gathering Storm in Pakistan: Political Economy of a Security State says the PPP leader has a misplaced sense of overconfidence:

“Zardari needs to understand that the power bequeathed to him by that larger-than-life figure, Benazir Bhutto, and Musharraf’s exit had more to do with his own blunders and with the policy of the US that never really trusted him in the first place and had become increasingly frustrated with his double-dealing particularly since February 2008,” Nazar said.

Of particular concern to Pakistanis is how Zardari will perform once he is ensconced in the presidency. For a man who runs the party by personal fiat — the directions come through two mobile phones which he keeps in each of his jacket pockets —  it will be a major test of his political skills to stay apolitical.

Traditionally, a civilian president is expected to resign from his party to maintain the neutrality of the office. To be sure, his predecessor in the party, Farooq Leghari, too, had to give up the party membership to become president in 1993.

Word is already doing the rounds that Zardari may hand over the day-to-day running of the party to his sister Faryal but such a move could lead to further fissures within the party.

The writer is News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani TV channel.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Pakistani parliament condemns US-led attack

September 5, 2008
Source: Netscape Celebrity
By NAHAL TOOSI

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Parliament passed resolutions Thursday condemning an American-led attack in Pakistani territory after the government summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the unusually bold raid that officials say killed at least 15 people.

The criticism grew two days before Asif Ali Zardari is expected to be chosen as president in a vote by legislators. A spokesman said Zardari condemned Wednesday’s pre-dawn assault in the South Waziristan tribal region – the first known foreign ground assault in Pakistan against a Taliban haven. But Zardari also said Pakistan stands with the U.S. against international terrorism.

Zardari, widower of former premier Benazir Bhutto, is expected to pursue a pro-U.S. policy similar to that of former President Pervez Musharraf and continue to go after Islamic militants accused of crossing into Afghanistan to attack the U.S.-led international security force there.

An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of cross-border operations, confirmed to The Associated Press that U.S. troops conducted the raid about a mile from the Afghan border.

It was unclear whether any extremist leader was killed or captured. Pakistan’s border region is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned the attack, saying “no important terrorist or high-value target” was killed.

“Innocent citizens, including women and children, have been targeted,” Qureshi said. The ministry’s spokesman said officials had no indication that U.S. forces had captured anyone.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, citing witness and intelligence reports, said troops flew in on at least one big CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter, blasted their way into several houses and gunned down men they found there.

Army and intelligence officials as well as residents said 15 people died, while the provincial governor said 20 civilians, including women and children, were killed.

Pakistan’s Senate and National Assembly passed resolutions Thursday condemning the attack.

In the past, similar protests over suspected U.S. missile attacks in Pakistani territory have led to little tangible effect on America’s relationship with Pakistan, which has received billions of dollars from Washington for its aid in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Still, the operation in South Waziristan’s Angoor Ada area threatened to complicate an already difficult relationship.

Continued . . .

Pakistan anxious as Zardari poised for presidency

September 5, 2008

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani legislators are set to elect as president the late Benazir Bhutto’s controversial widower Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday, making a choice many Pakistanis see leading to a fresh phase of political instability.

His wife’s assassination last December and the victory of her grieving party in a February election has catapulted Zardari to the top in Pakistan’s switch to civilian-led democracy after nine years under former army chief and president, Pervez Musharraf.

The presidential vote is a three-way contest, but Zardari’s party and its allies have a clear majority among lawmakers in the two-chamber parliament and four provincial legislatures that make up the electoral college.

Desperate for stability in a nuclear-armed Muslim state whose cooperation is key to victory over al Qaeda and the success of the West’s mission in Afghanistan, the United States is counting on Zardari to keep Pakistan committed to the war on terrorism.

“I will work to defeat the domestic Taliban insurgency and to ensure that Pakistan territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on our neighbours or on NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Zardari said in an article in the Washington Post on Thursday.

The United States doesn’t trust his chief rival Nawaz Sharif, fearing he could pander to Islamists.

The dangers that lie ahead were underscored on Wednesday by an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a Zardari nominee, that the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for.

IMAGE PROBLEMS

Zardari’s been called a crook, a liar, and held in widespread disdain, and there have even been doubts raised about his mental fitness after the rigours of 11 years spent in jail.

Loyalists say the allegations were politically motivated and powerful media groups were smearing Zardari’s image, while favouring Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999.

“No one challenges his democratic credentials as head of an elected party, but the personal credibility of Mr. Zardari has become a serious issue,” wrote Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan’s largest newspaper group, in The News daily last week.

Zardari’s hesitancy to bring back judges Musharraf dismissed because of fears they could revive corruption cases against him, has not built confidence.

Zardari, who was investment minister in the second government of his slain wife, was released after an eight-year stretch in 2004, but he has never been convicted.

Charges against him and Bhutto were dropped last year under an amnesty introduced by Musharraf for politicians and civil servants as part of an attempt to cut a deal with Bhutto.

Continued  . . .

The forgotten millions

August 31, 2008

As Pakistan’s political leaders wrangle over the small print, the welfare of the country’s people has dropped off the agenda

Last November, I lost a long-standing bet with a friend when General Pervez Musharraf finally relinquished his military role and then embarked on a new term as Pakistan’s civilian president. Up to that point, the idea that he might give up his army uniform had always seemed ludicrous – thus leading me to enter into the bet so confidently.

The end of Benazir Bhutto’s self-imposed exile from Pakistan last October was the turning point in the country’s political rat race. The response by thousands of PPP supporters to her arrival was enough to drive Musharraf to impose a state of emergency.

August 18 this year, however, saw the end of Musharraf’s regime. His haphazard constitutional changes, some of which include the suspension of the judiciary (which is still in turmoil today) and other actions such as the military operation against Red Mosque fundamentalists and the curtailing of high-profile media channels, ended up backfiring.

The ineffectual methods used to quell the uproar after Bhutto’s assassination last December, when the authorities failed to solve the case, contributed to a further fall from grace in the public eye. Towards the end of his regime, the discontent reached its height, turning into an almost unanimous anti-Musharraf campaign in the national media, and exacerbating the civil war raging in the tribal areas.

What of Pakistan’s future now? Since Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s husband and co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), currently the largest party, has nominated himself for the presidential seat, a new debate has been sparked, with the opposition in uproar. Last Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif parted ways with the PPP, leading to the collapse of the five-month-old coalition government, on the grounds that Zardari had not kept his word regarding the restoration of the judiciary or democracy. An agreement signed on August 7 by the two leaders was also exposed to the public. It clearly stated the executive restoration of the judges would occur one day after the impeachment or resignation of President Musharraf. Zardari, however, employed every delaying tactic at hand to prevent this policy from going through. The accord also stated that once Musharraf was out of the picture, both leaders would put forward nonpartisan candidates for presidency. Asif Zardari went ahead and declared himself a candidate for president without informing or consulting Nawaz Sharif, and announced that the elections would take place on September 6.

The current stalemate between the former allies and the fractured coalition seem to loom larger in politics than the survival of Pakistanis who are unable to cope with massive food and fuel inflation. While the judges and the constitutional bills are lofty policy matters of grave significance, the politicians in the country seem to have lost sight of what image they are portraying both at home and abroad.

With nuclear neighbour India already licking its chops and the US circling, eager to launch an inevitable counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan, it appears that the country stands closer to decline than ever before, democracy or no democracy. But there are those who dare to hope yet. Hope, even, that there might be a reformation on the horizon, or that after the resolution of conflicts, the country will return to the path of peaceful development. Hope that no foreign conflict lies ahead, and that the dire energy crisis will be resolved within the five to six-year timeline given, or even that there will not still be forces at loggerheads on policy technicalities, skirting the issue of the welfare of the nation. I, for one, am not willing to wager very much on that these hopes will be realised. Are you?


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