By Sohail Sangi
After Benazir’s death, Asif Ali Zardari became the supremo of Pakistan People’s Party and has since had a frontline role in shaping his party's and the country’s strategies and politics.
Following his wife’s death, Zardari raised the slogan “Pakistan khappay.” This was a time when it was feared that separatists in Sindh could capture the anger at BB's demise.
A senior parliamentarian once remarked that one needs a degree in maneuvering skills to understand Zardari’s mind. A master of handling difficult scenarios, it is not out of nowhere that people coined the slogan, *eik Zardari sab pa bhari* [one Zardari prevails upon everybody].
From 2008 onward, he has shown remarkable talent in making deals with political foes, whether it is Nawaz Sharif, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat or the MQM.
It was Zardari who convinced Nawaz to run for elections under the Musharraf regime, by promising to form the government with him. He followed up with the Murree Declaration of 2008.
Despite PPP majority in Sindh, the MQM was also made partner in the coalition government as part of the reconciliation policy.
When the alliance with Nawaz could not work at the centre, Zardari opted for the PML-Q as a partner, even though the PPP had previously called them the ‘Qatil League’ for their alleged role in Benazir’s death.
Though his tenure was full of trials and tribulations, Zardari did not opt for confrontation. His coalition formula endured and the completion of the term for his parliament was a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history.
The passing of the 18th Amendment and the 7th NFC Award was also a direct result of Zardari’s reconciliation policy.
Today, the PPP is operating under a new strategy. Bilawal is the public face of the party, assigned to take on political rivals aggressively. Faryal Talpur has been handed over Sindh’s affairs. Zardari is now free to play his part in national politics.
We saw the result of that when the PPP played a key role in destabilising the Balochistan government and the installation of a new one. Later, Zardari was pivotal in what transpired in the Senate elections.
2018 elections might give birth to a hung parliament. This will give Zardari a bigger role in deciding the government.
Zardari is the architect of a new model of politics and vote winning for the PPP, namely electables. This is unlike Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, who believed in people’s power.
The PPP head honcho has also been a proponent of uninterrupted talks with India in order for the two countries to resolve the Kashmir issue. An advocate of peace with Pakistan's eastern neighbour, as president, Zardari once announced a new no first use nuclear weapons policy, overturning years of Pakistan’s deterrence doctrine.
This aligns with Zardari's broad opposition to nuclear weapons. He is a staunch opponent of using them and has repeatedly ruled out a nuclear scenario between India and Pakistan.
During Zardari’s presidency and a PPP-led coalition government, the National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of the 18th Amendment, which limited key presidential powers and took away the authority presidents enjoyed to dismiss elected governments.The amendment also devolved several ministries to provinces, shedding some powers from the centre and empowering the units.
Zardari and his party’s first brush with the establishment soon after forming the government in 2008 came when it tried to bring in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) under direct control of the interior division. Less than 24 hours into the decision, the PPP-led government was forced to retract it following reports of extreme tension between various sections of the government and establishment and as a result of intense back-channel efforts. His party witnessed a few setbacks during the 2008-2013 period, including some that were attributed to establishment machinations, however, Zardari and the PPP managed to complete their tenure.
The PPP supremo also once lashed out at the military establishment for allegedly overstepping its domain. Speaking to party office bearers from KP and Fata in June 2015, Zardari warned the establishment to refrain from character assassination of political parties, adding "if you do not stop, I will come out with a list of accused generals since Pakistan's creation". He also held what he called "the martial mindset" responsible for Pakistan’s slow pace of development.
Later however, Zardari supported the establishment of military courts. This was a departure from his earlier position in which he had warned that under military courts one could not rule out the possibility of unfairly persecuting political opponents.
In March 2017, Zardari formally ended PPP’s reconciliation approach towards the PML-N and others, saying now onwards the party will do “politics of resistance”.
The PPP kingpin has consistently supported Nawaz Sharif's 2017 ouster by the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, he addressed a political gathering where he called Nawaz Sharif is “a national thief who stole our mandate in the previous polls”. He likened Nawaz to Hitler, saying it was time to oust the ex PML-chief from the country’s power politics.
A proponent of devolution and decentralisation, Zardari believes a solution to many of southern Punjab’s problems is the creation of a Seraiki province. Earlier this year, speaking in Seraiki at a workers convention, he said there were no more hurdles to the establishment of a Seraiki province, and that the creation of a separate province could help solve a lot of issues in South Punjab.
Regarding the multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Zardari says it was PPP that pioneered the project. In an apparent reference to the PML-N, he added that the PPP is not concerned with as to who takes credit for the project by placing advertisements on media.