A forbidding thought it may have been but the reality of Asif Ali Zardari as the president of Pakistan cannot be wished away. We know that Pakistan has not been lucky in recent months. You only have to look around, from an uncovered ditch in the village of Baba Kot in Balochistan, to the battlefields in the northern areas and to the misery of the ordinary people everywhere to underline that eerie feeling that something very disastrous might happen at any moment. Well, we do have some ominous developments.
In my recent expressions of dismay over how the Pakistan People’s Party is dealing with emerging crises, I have been careful to confess my lifelong sympathy for this great party. It has been the only parking place in the political arena for the liberal opinion. But the drift that we have witnessed after Zardari reneged on his solemn promise to restore the judges sacked by Pervez Musharraf on November 3, 2007 – something that cannot even be justified by the normal standards of political expediency – is truly heartbreaking.
And when I contend with these feelings as a supporter of the PPP, I can imagine how those who have always detested the party would feel. This, then, is the most fundamental objection to the Zardari presidency. He is a contentious figure. He is also the unchallenged and strong leader of the largest party. There should be little dispute with the need for the president to be neutral and non-controversial. Zardari has always been a controversial figure and some recent reports, including the one in the Financial Times regarding his medical certificates, have surely not removed any misgivings about him.
“What’s all the fuss about?”, asks my friend Ayaz Amir in his column in this newspaper on Friday. Yes, he is right in arguing that “anyone has the right to stand as president and be elected, given the right numbers”. But does this mean that we should have no concern for moral principles and the essential spirit of democracy – irrespective of the electoral drill. Haven’t they always been saying that elections alone do not make a democracy?
Even when we invoke the democratic principle, we can be sure that the majority of the people would not approve of this outcome. You have to bear in mind the circumstances in which the electoral campaign was conducted, the coalition was formed and solemn pledges were made, including in writing, to restore the judges. You should also look at the alliances that the PPP has made to get Zardari elected. Remember May 12, 2007?
Again, expediency may be considered a somewhat legitimate instrument of democratic politics. Yet, the values of trust and credibility cannot totally be set aside. This would also appear to defy the fundamentals of the ‘yaron-ka-yar’ syndrome. The only explanation for Zardari to change his mind on the deal that he had struck with the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif would be that ground realities had changed and that new strategies had become indispensable for the resolution of national crises.
If you look carefully, you may conclude that these crises have really been intensified by the refusal of the PPP to abide by the promises it had made. The irony of all this is that the PPP leaders have been very right in insisting that they had valiantly campaigned for the cause of the sacked judiciary. We have the footage to show that they were in the forefront of the lawyers’ movement. There is also that statement made by Benazir Bhutto. And at the same time that they highlight the party’s role in the popular movement, they keep on insisting that the judges would, after all, be restored. Ah, with Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar as their chief justice?
Alas, what we see them doing in this regard is very painful for their supporters in the civil society. There is a lot of ambivalence and a hint of deception in how the party’s newly inducted leaders, the Rehman Maliks and Farooq Naeks, are playing the game. One suspects that the great hope that was born with the formation of the grand coalition after the February elections was a camouflage and all moves were made to pave the way for the Zardari presidency, even though he initially had the airs of a Mr Sonia Gandhi.
Let us try and recap the events that have marked our political journey from March 9, 2007. First, we must admit that it was a day that changed many things. It was a silver lining on a dark horizon. Recall the emotions of the people of Pakistan as they got involved, if only as spectators, in the movement launched by the lawyers and carried forward by the media and the civil society activists. Try to re-live, in your imagination, the excitement of those days. We did have that feeling of Pakistan having been re-invented.
It can be argued that it was this movement that set the stage for the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to the country. Benazir’s welcome on October 18, 2007, was another great event to bolster people’s faith in a new beginning, in spite of the suspicions that were prompted by the deal she had made with Musharraf and also that devastating terrorist attack on her procession. Her assassination on December 27, inquiry about which seems to have faded into the background, had shattered the nation. In many ways, we have not yet recovered from that terrible loss and it is certainly the PPP’s responsibility to redeem the hope and the expectations that she had symbolised.
Go back, also, to November 3, 2007, and its consequences. At that dark hour, our history was lit by the defiance of a majority of the judges of our superior courts, who refused to take oath under another PCO. Justice Dogar was the beneficiary of that act of infamy – and he remains the beneficiary of what Zardari has wrought. Remember also the ban on the media, the vicious beatings of the lawyers, journalists and political activists. Should all that be allowed to go in vain?
As I have hinted at the outset, the nation is in a deep crisis. Many aspects of this crisis do not directly relate to what our politicians are doing. Our social, moral and intellectual deprivations get little attention. The young constitute a massive chunk of our population and they are uneducated, ill-educated and utterly frustrated. They verily constitute a time bomb. And we need political stability and social order to be able to deal with such emergencies. Can Zardari’s presidency, essentially divisive, provide us with stability and order?