Asif Ali Zardari: The man minus his mojo

Published July 3, 2016
BB with Asif Ali Zardari  — the way we were. —Photo provided by the writer
BB with Asif Ali Zardari — the way we were. —Photo provided by the writer

Witness prisoner Dr Asim Hussain’s confessional statement on TV. He’s a shadow of the man he was as president Zardari’s top gun. Likewise, whenever his former patron was stripped of his mojo, he’d emerge as an everyday Joe.

For instance, 18 years almost to the day, there sat the under-trial prisoner senator Asif Zardari on his wife’s chair in the leader of the opposition chamber inside the Parliament House.

Behind stood a giant portrait of his father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; in front a close-up of Benazir Bhutto; and beside him, his crutch and constant companion — the cane.

Around the table milled no crowds of fawning jiyalas, but just two of his fellow-Sindhi legislators, Naveed Qamar and Khurshid Shah. Completing the picture were a handful of sassy media people, yours truly included.

Senator Asif Zardari looked wan, weak and weather-beaten three shades darker with thinning unkempt hair. He seemed to have shrunk in stature.

Take a look: Benazir and Zardari: The marriage that shook the political scenario

He just sat in that hot stuffy room twirling his thumbs, because the Senate session had ended and he had another three hours to kill before being taken back to Adiala Jail.

Only 20 months earlier, he and Benazir adorned the centre-stage at President Farooq Leghari’s son’s marriage reception, reminiscent of a medieval king and queen thronged by courtiers at a banquet witnessed by ‘coarse’ commoners (read the rest of the invitees).

"It’s a bonanza for me to be out of my cage and talking to you and spending time like normal people," he addressed us while munching supari that he kept producing from his pocket.

“Islamabad is so unreal. It is rootless. People here live in glass houses and don’t feel the heat outside,” commented the former first gentleman, once the most powerful, romanticised, adored, scorned and feared man living in the PM House on the hill.

How are the children in Dubai? I asked.

“You know Bilawal spoke to me just now on the phone and for the first time conducted a conversation saying: ‘we miss you Baba’.”

How is Begum Bhutto? I asked.

“She lives with them. She’s not well at all.”

How’s your own health?

“What do you expect?” he shot back. “I have a back problem and a litany of other medical ailments.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Pakistani politics is a prime example. It regurgitates politicians who pivot from jail to the presidency or the Prime Minister’s house with nothing in between

How come when in power, VVIPs are robust, but when shorn of authority, they are laid up with anxiety?

“Obviously, if you’re locked up in a cell for months and meted out ill treatment, [torture?] what do you think happens? We are no gorillas, naturally, we’re used to an easy pampered life.”

To change the subject, Asif asked, “How’s the party season?”

I answered, ‘It’s not the same without you!’”

He laughed heartily.

It’s true that AZ brightened up the dullest dinner parties in the capital, with his bewitching presence.

I reminded him at one particular farewell dinner for the outgoing American ambassador John Monjo, at the home of a hotel magnate Sadruddin Hashwani, where the top brass (contenders to the COAS throne) were in attendance.

See: Zardari tried to kill me, Hashwani alleges in his book

AZ grabbed the phone and dialled his phone number.

“I want to talk to him yaar,” he announced like an excited schoolboy. The voice at the other end informed him that the man is not on his seat.

Ten minutes later, AZ was still holding on. “Sahib is out of the country,” click!

A much-amused AZ laughed, “You know Saifur Rehman [then head of Ehtesab Bureau] named Hashwani as my front man who had bought a hotel in California for me.” More laughter.

Suddenly he was not laughing. “This man [Saifur Rehman] is wasting the country’s resources in putting up this drama, cooking up stories that half the loot — Rs 22bn — belongs to me because officers like Javed Talat, Aslam Hayat Qureshi and Salman Farooqui bought properties on my behalf.

It’s bizarre! I don’t know these gentlemen.” This, of course, is untrue.

“BB has no money to pay for the children’s school fees. All our resources are frozen.”

This too is untrue. When I told AZ that the Lahore High Court and Swiss authorities have sealed their accounts/properties here and abroad, he said, “I have not made any money. I have to answer to God.

How can a man make billions of dollars? Saifur Rehman is basing his proof on some computer configurations that are totally false.”

Continuing AZ said, “He’s the same man who earlier accused me of dacoity, kidnapping and murder. Now he has gone a step further and added drug money to my list of ‘crimes’. He’s done a ‘good’ job of doctoring these documents.”

When I told AZ that Saifur Rehman plans to publish a book about AZ’s and BB’s corruption, Asif shot back, “He can bring out an encyclopedia. It will be a load of rubbish!”

About Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s billions, AZ said, “He’s acting goody goody, whereas we all know that he’s a defaulter who has now pledged to return property which won’t fetch much cash, so that he and his family can borrow more money from the banks. He’s bad news for the country.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 3rd, 2016



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