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The Zardari files


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IT’S that time of the year again. Down the rabbit hole we must go, exploring the recesses of the mind that is ruling Pakistan — or at least the civilian part of it — to try and figure out, what is Zardari thinking?

He’s had much to think about lately.

Team PPP has taken some serious hits in recent days. One prime minister’s been knocked out, another’s chance scuttled before he could drink from the poisoned chalice and a third is likely to face intense judicial scrutiny straight off the bat.

Power riots have intensified across swathes of the country, encouraged by an opportunistic PML-N. A handpicked central bank governor has strayed from the official script and admitted the unsustainability of the present economic policy. And the Americans have all but given up, their frustration and disappointment with the PPP increasingly public.

Through it all, Zardari hasn’t said much. The odd platitude here, the old slogan there, that’s about it.

But his mind will have been ticking, figuring out the next step in his game plan for survival, and now, reelection. Some of the choices he’s made can appear puzzling.

Back in January, when the Supreme Court reactivated the NRO issue and tried once again to get the Swiss letter written, Zardari’s strategy was fairly simple: weather the storm.

So as good ol’ YRG stood up and delivered a repeat performance of his memogate role in Swissgate, it made sense to declare that the PPP would quietly accept whatever fate the Supreme Court had in store for him.

After all, the boss wasn’t being directly targeted.

But then Bahriagate happened and a delicious opportunity presented itself: take the fight to a tarnished judiciary and hang on to a PM who had served his party loyally.

Zardari chose to do neither.

While it’s not surprising that Zardari allowed his prime minister to sacrifice himself — the admiring tone in which the party faithful had begun to speak about Gilani would have caused some consternation — not taking on the court seemed like a dangerous gamble.

In this game, once blood has been tasted, they always come back for a second, even bigger, bite. So why didn’t Zardari strike when he could and thus risk being struck against himself later?

Another puzzle: the PPP’s deteriorating relationship with the US.

Back in 2007, had it not been for the Americans’ insistence, the PPP would have found itself shut out of power by Musharraf and his allies.

Fast forward five years and the Americans have given up. It’s not just the corruption and the incompetence that has exasperated them but the inability to deliver on anything. Broader and deeper ties with the civilians were desired by the Americans — and probably still are — but Zardari doesn’t appear particularly interested.

The Nato/Isaf supply route closure sums up the problem: everyone — everyone in a decision-making position and guided by common sense, that is — agrees that an extended closure is not in the interest of Pakistan, but try finding anyone willing to own that decision publicly.

Here, then, would seem to be an opportunity for Zardari. His personal approval ratings are so low that he could risk a public backlash were he to try and convince the public of the merits of reopening the supply route.

And in any case, the PPP’s base in interior Sindh and southern Punjab is hardly animated by issues of foreign policy and supply routes.

Zardari’s — and democracy’s — potential reward, though: renewed American support for the civilians at a time where other institutions inside Pakistan are upping their anti-democratic games.

And yet Zardari turned up at Chicago asking what the Americans could do for him when they were expecting to hear what he could do for them.

So what is he thinking?

The answer, unhappily, is a familiar one. One, Zardari’s obsession with proving that he can drag this government over the finish line — completing its term — continues to dominate all else. Two, Zardari cares about only Zardari. And three, Zardari’s world begins and ends with domestic politics.Combine those three elements and you have answers to all the vexing questions.

In Zardari’s scheme of things, Gilani’s bravery was neither a source of much concern nor did it elicit much admiration. Yes, the court has ventured deep into the realm of politics. But it hasn’t gone for Zardari himself yet — so it can do what it likes for now.

Zardari’s goal is simple: the PPP train will pull up at the electoral station come what may. Friends and allies may get picked off en route, but as long as Zardari is on board at the final destination, it’s a job well done.

The same goes for ties with the Americans. In 2007, the PPP was locked out of power and the Americans held the key. Now, Zardari is king of the castle and he’s charted out his plan for future success.

Zardari is all about the deal. Biting the bullet in the name of the larger national interest is a non-starter and while he’s willing to risk the army’s ire, he can’t see what’s in it for him to stabilise a relationship no one else is willing to save.

Besides, his universe is consumed by the map of domestic politics. Winning seats, adjusting others, aspiring to some more — none of that leaves much time for statesmanship, saving Pakistan or doing the right thing.

The Zardari of today is the same as the Zardari of a couple of years ago.

Make sure the finish line is crossed, whatever the casualties suffered along the way. Think of little more than himself.

And obsess over the minutiae of domestic politics. That’s the Zardari strategy. And it looks like we’ll have it suffer it a little longer still.

The writer is a member of staff.

twitter: @cyalm

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

Mlang Jun 24, 2012 08:43am
I agree with u dear.. Zardari cant make decision as decisions are made by the state within the state.. So why blame zardari
Ahsan Ali Jun 24, 2012 10:20am
Adnan Jun 24, 2012 06:57am
Dear Cyril you nailed it, zardari and his dream world has no other fellow, just him and his lust for more. I would beg to differ though on your last thought, where your think we have to bear with him a little longer. I believe on the contrary that he is staying for much longer and his party plus his coalition partners are coming back next year. And that is because we dont have enough educated people like yourself in the country. Most of our populace only remembers what happened last night, and not over the last five years. So my dear Cyril, WE will elect them back in power, bacause we do not know the difference between good and bad. WE have rotted as a nation and as a people, and WE will only elect what is the worst of the lot, because WE are blind in our faith and deaf in our belief.
Cyrus Howell Jun 25, 2012 06:13pm
In America the bureaucrats are not "running the country" they are managing their careers. In Pakistan it seems the leaders are more interested in making very profitable money deals for themselves, and not "running the country." + "This struggle and scramble for public office, for a way to live without working, will one day tax the strength of our institutions." Abraham Lincoln
Omar Jun 25, 2012 08:42pm
You are right Adnan you are the few ones that admit that WE have a problem as a nation. But I also beg to differ with you on one thing, majority of our educated people in and out of country don't use common sense and blame others for what they have done to their nation which directly involves their personal life. The problem is with the citizen of Pakistan, educated or not educated. Many of us don't even know whats right and whats wrong. And just like Zardari WE care about only ourself and don't care even about the small neighborhood that we live in. BTW great article Cyril
kkk Jun 24, 2012 07:27pm
maybe you will vote for PPP as usual .... the rest of the country is not sleeping
Asif Jun 25, 2012 02:55am
Yeah why would Zardari sacrifice himself for the same of the military like Nawaz Sharif did during the Kargil debacle? He has learnt well from the mistakes of others.
Farooq Jun 24, 2012 09:51am
From day one he was not much pushed to take decisions on foreign affairs. Allowing foreigners to meet other Org heads directly. Allowing foreigners to enter the country without proper protocol through his ambassador at US. His sluggishness on foreign affairs looks like by design.
Guest Jun 24, 2012 02:45pm
Are you kidding me Iftikhar? You could have done what Zardari did. He was obliged to do atleast as much. He has done nothing, he is not an iron man he is in power b'c there is no structure and people dont care and those who care dont know how to fix this.
Masud Zaidi Jun 25, 2012 05:49am
I think the statement that Zardari is only for Zardari is half truth. Full truth is that 211 legislators who voted for new PM on the behest of Zardari are only for themselves which proves the well known saying " every human activity revolves around self-interest " as correct. Talking about nationalism, merit, good governance, morality, statesmanship etc. in real-politik are mere words to make the poor foolish people more fool.
haider Jun 24, 2012 12:04pm
Very subjective analysis. No good analysis. You have put all Regional & National issues in one go under Zardari's inability caption.
Nighat Jun 24, 2012 10:04am
It’s easier to analyse after damage is done and more difficult to look and plan ahead like Zardari. For its high time for us to plan for the next elections so that we may have finally have a government in place which can act in the interest of the state instead of wasting time entangled in domestic politics.
Ahmad Nadeem Jun 25, 2012 05:06pm
Most of us don't know where he is at particular moment. Nation has not seen him anywhere except in Ghari Khudabakhash (his home town) where he dons Sindhi cap & plays Sindh card. He is an invisible president devoting most of his time to scheming, to keep his grip on the power.
Adil Jadoon Jun 24, 2012 06:39am
well said. Good lord deliver us!
ali abbas Jun 24, 2012 04:43pm
Its amazing Cyril that now you have developed an ability to read people minds. Its also important that whatever conclusion you come to doesnt have to be based on logic or evidence all it has to do is support your assertions. Journalism in Pakistan has really come a long way. Not only our religion leaders have some divine connections to God our so called journalists have also gained this ability. Not to throw you off dear but how about the possibility that Zardari has figured out that no matter what he does, he will not be able to satisfy hyper-right wing journalists or super intrusive judiciary or a military who is not willing to relinquish any powers . All he can do is keep his head down, let all the insults fly, let people say what they want but show to Pakistanis and the rest of the world that its possible for democratically elected govt to continue their mandate and allow people to decide who will lead them next. Zardari can focus all his energies on answering your inquiries or stay calm and let things run their course and not allow anyone to send home an elected govt through back door. Against all the taunts and bullying he has not retaliated, he has not declared himself as Khadim-e-ala, he has remained calm when all sort or attempts have been made to entice him to respond. Quietly chugging along and let the history judge.
shoaib Jun 24, 2012 11:12am
Perfect view of the situation however if the NATIONALS sit and watch all this like silent spectators we will end up in doom without re - course. Once upon a time i saw a ray of hope in the PPP now i can safely say i wish and pray for the day they leave this universe. Thousands and thousands of human beings oddly from Pakistan die every year in the classification of TARGET KILLED & DRONED yet the UN and the American bahadurs seems to be oblivious of this and yet the entire international world is only worried about Syria whose tally of SLAUGHTER is not even close to that of ours, which only indicates to the observant that MR.Z and all those who are high and mighty YOU HAVE SOLD OUT OUR NATION just for your few days of false glory. may peace prevail Pakistan Zindabad.
raika45 Jun 24, 2012 01:38pm
Zadari may have a plan that he will only unleash when elections come around.What it is nobody knows.Or he is playing for time to settle his affairs,both internal and external.If his party wins,good and settled.If not, do what Musharraf did,fly bird fly.Let his son take over his property.
Fareed Jun 24, 2012 12:02pm
Very well written.. All Zardari cares about is Zardari.. what he is here for and what he is supposed to be here for are far apart.. and look at the player, in his scheme, his plans for himself, no matter how cunning, are always fool proof, and within the jurisdiction of law. All he says he cares about is the word "Democracy" - not the people, not the country, not the economy, not the welfare of the people - but what? Democracy alone.. Alas..
ahmedi Jun 24, 2012 01:38pm
He is enjoying the golden chair isn't he ?
shoaib Jun 24, 2012 07:12pm
Adnan, I couldn't agree more with you.
Sure Kant Jun 24, 2012 04:58am
Cyril, I am truly amazed that you think that Zardari -- or for that matter even the CJP himself -- could take any decision on foreign policy. Tut, tut. That lies in the domain of the state within the state!
salman ahmed Jun 24, 2012 05:28am
Good analysis.
Anonymous Jun 24, 2012 08:00am
zardari is greatest "politician" ever born in pakistan
Jayan Jun 24, 2012 08:14am
Though Zardari's government is very corrupt , he is a shrewd politician who knows how to play his trump cards in a messy politics . Otherwise he should have been kicked out of the office by now.
iftikhar Jun 24, 2012 09:55am
Not true picture of zardari. he has proved himself a good statesman. look at the challanges he has to face from the very first day of his rule. an iron man. not giving up despite intense scenario and only for democracy in the poor pakistan.
Abdul Waheed Jun 25, 2012 01:24pm
He has learnt the art to remain calm despite all adversaries, patient, tolerant, non indulgence into affairs of Establishment and foreign policy. Even when judiciary has been making biased decisions against his party and his Prime Minister, he is cool and silent like a very weak creature against some powerful hunter. His strategy is proving successful for survival of his party in power otherwise his party would have been out of power a long ago.
Maestro Jul 06, 2012 02:31pm
Former American ambassador summed it up pretty well in her reports to US State dept. , which were leaked by Wiki Leaks. Zardari is good at politics and very poor at governance, the very thing which this nation desperately needed.
Muddaser Salal Aug 20, 2012 04:05pm
why brilliant please tell me if you don't mind my words thanks.