ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari may leave the presidency self-satisfied and “without any regrets” on September 8 but praise and harangue are likely to follow him for long for his five-year record in the highest office of the land.
His Pakistan People’s Party is sure to sing the laurels of the many political “firsts” its leader is recognised for but his haters would not let go any opportunity to rake up his tarnished image of decades past in a shouting match.
A glimpse of what to expect in the coming months was provided during the ongoing session of the National Assembly.
In reply to a question, the PML-N government informed the lower house of parliament that President Zardari went on 93 foreign trips during the past five years – 25 of them to Dubai alone.
Since the question put by the PML-N MNA ,Choudhry Mohammad Shahbaz Babar from Faisalabad was ‘unstarred’, the information went unread, buried in the record kept in the Assembly’s library.
It still stirred the house, and could become handy for any member to make fun of the “record number of trips” the president took.
And the occasion for it is at hand as the debate on the last of President Zardari’s “record six addresses” to the joint session of the parliament, a constitutional requirement, has begun in the National Assembly.
MNA Shahbaz Babar had also sought details of expenditures incurred on Mr Zardari’s 93 foreign trips, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inexplicably failed to provide that information.
Would it matter to critics, however, that most of the trips Mr Zardari made to Dubai were ‘private’, to visit his children who live there?
Asked to comment on the president’s perceived “unusual interest” in foreign trips, his spokesperson, Senator Farhatullah Babar, said President Zardari undertook them on the invitation of heads of states, reminding them that other presidents in the past had done the same.
“President Zardari going to address the United Nations General Assembly, or visiting other countries on the advice of the sitting government, is nothing unique,” said Senator Babar.
In any case, the PPP has enough to sing the laurels of such achievements as the passage of the far-reaching 18th amendment in the Constitution by consensus under its policy of reconciliation.
President Zardari himself gave up the dictatorial powers that his military predecessors, General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf had written into the 1973 Constitution for the president, with the blessings of the judiciary, and returned all powers back to the parliament.
In the Westminster model of democracy that Pakistan purportedly follows, the ceremonial head of the state rarely visits abroad and only on invitation.
Neighbouring India’s president is rarely seen visiting other countries.