Mediaeval-minded presidents

September 11, 2011


THE expert in understanding the wiles and ways of the truly accidental co-chairman of the party of the people who doubles as head of state of the Islamic Republic is my young friend Cyril Almeida.

He has, on several occasions, come up with what seem to be viable explanations as to how Mr Asif Zardari manoeuvres matters to keep himself where he is, safely in his presidential immunity, only on rare occasions seemingly fluffing up.

It was mooted the other day by a citizen who has been an observer of the Zardari modus operandi that he may possibly be the smartest man (in his own interests solely) to have occupied the presidential seat — street smart, savvy and an exceedingly smooth operator.

His staying powers, and his luck, are stupendous. He has been around politically since 1988 when he held the position of prime ministerial husband, endowed with full powers and access to all matters of state. His reputation was built up in the relatively short term of 20 months, the length of Benazir’s first term. On her dismissal, cases were instigated against him and he began his sporadic stays in the country’s most famous jails.

A member of the National Assembly, he was periodically released from prison to attend sessions.Then, in 1993, when President Ghulam Ishaq Khan sacked the government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he was escorted from prison straight to the presidency where he was sworn in as a minister in the caretaker cabinet to oversee the second coming of his wife.

Zardari’s real power was during Benazir’s second term. He was first made minister of environment, and then minister for investment which ideally suited him. These heady days lasted until 1996 until Benazir was again dismissed and he paid for his power by being again confined either in jail or in a VIP hospital room. His ordeal ended when he was released by a military dictator in 2004.

Also remarkable is his resilience and his mastery over his physical and mental fitness. On the occasion of his birthday in 2003, his wife in an article in our press informed the nation: “Prison stole his youth and right to happiness. Under gruesome conditions facing several murder charges, thrice tortured, Asif developed high blood pressure, diabetes, spondylitis, tumours in his nose and on his hand. Recently he underwent tests for a prostrate ailment.”

Added to this, on record in a London court of law, diagnosed in 2007 (one year before he was sworn in as president), is the fact that at that time two New York-based doctors — one psychiatrist and one psychologist — had certified that he suffered from emotional instability, memory loss, concentration problems and major depressive disorders.

Gosh and golly! And yet we now have him with us as fit as a fiddle, as sharp as a knife, and absolutely on the ball. He travels the world (in lackadaisical fashion on occasions) and of late has apparently been more concerned with Saudi Arabian-Iranian relations than with his own internal chaos. He has interacted with Riyadh, Tehran and Bahrain, and has made uncountable visits to China for whatever purposes; immediately following the production of the Zulfikar Mirza show he nonchalantly took off for some remote area of the Middle Kingdom.

Mind you, certain unfriendly quarters credit him with Machiavellian mediaeval traits, and the old divide and rule ploy, and moot that he may even contribute towards the chaos to shore up the retention of his immunity from countless court cases. All that is done, or not done, is related to the next round of elections.

So indeed, which few preceding heads of state have been smarter? Well, for sure not Gen Pervez Musharraf. Zardari would never ever summon a chief justice of Pakistan to ‘persuade’ him to resign. He has other means which he uses with great expertise to keep the judiciary where he wants it.

Rafiq Tarar was but an excuse for a president, eminently forgettable. Farooq Leghari overshot himself by trying to outsmart the establishment using his constitutional powers. The heat from the seat got to him. From being whistle-clean he ended up with a reputation for doing dirty deals — the Mehran Bank scam and his attempted bargaining with Nawaz Sharif spring to mind.

Ghulam Ishaq Khan manoeuvred and manipulated elections, the goings and comings of prime ministers, he allowed his sons-in-law to allegedly run riot in the corruption field, and though himself financially clean he was intellectually dishonest in his bargaining and bowing to politicians to keep himself in his seat.

Now, to Ziaul Haq, general and president, mard-i-momin. Yes, conceivably he could outsmart Zardari. Had it not been for the mangoes, who knows how long he might have been with us? President for 11 years, he was a mere 64 years when he was murdered, most likely from within.

He was smooth and suave, his international standing was redeemed (after hanging a prime minister) by his declaration to take on the Soviets in Afghanistan and by his success in so doing. Internally, he was cruel and damaging. His legacy still haunts us.

Mediaeval to the bone, his disgraceful, humiliating laws are kept firmly in place by democrat Zardari and his Eighth Amendment remains stuck in the constitution.

The great ‘sacrifice’ of doing away with Article 58(2)(B) is an eye wash. Zardari has all the powers he needs and with his wooden prime minister and subservient cabinet, he just does not need any power of dissolution. What he needs and must cling to is his immunity.