A former President returns to Pakistan

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Welcome home, Mr Zardari

Ever since Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari announced in a press conference that his father and former President Asif Ali Zardari would return home on December 23 after being cleared by his doctors, I have been flooded with questions. Everyone who is interested to know about him does not wait for my response but springs perceptions that he or she wants to believe. Most of them are not charitable in compliments. However, behind their grim mask one could see that they too feel that the most controversial and enigmatic man had “something” in him that made him different from other politicians.

As a young man, flaunting a sports car, his contemporaries envied him, some were jealous and some were outright animus of him while women -invariably- called him a great charmer. I had not met him before his engagement but I had known his father Rais Hakim Ali Zardari. We bonded in a relationship that is thicker than blood after his marriage with our beloved Bibi and Bhutto Sahib’s “Dearest Daughter”.

I found him to be very witty with an instantaneous quip for every occasion. And of course I am envious of his repertoire of Urdu verses. He can quote Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Sahib, Faraz and Jalib among others better than some of the leaders now who try to ape Bhutto Sahib in the art of oratory by their Hitler-like demagoguery and quotes from anthology of mobile poetry painted at the back of trucks for the pleasures of pappos on road and in politics.

Previous to his announcement, my journalist friends and others, too, used to ring me from Pakistan to ask about him: how was he, was he really not well and will he ever return to Pakistan or prefer a life in exile? Most of the time I avoided to respond about his medical problems as I knew nobody would believe me.

I have had the agony of spending some time in Adiyala, Karachi Jail and the so-called “safe houses” run by the FIA as torture cells (1996-1997) – courtesy Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hatchet man (Senator Saif ur Rehman) who then ran Accountability Bureau – the same notorious man who had ordered forced conviction of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari by ordering Justice Qayum on phone in April 1999.

Thank God, Mian Sahib is not using his Gestapo-like third degree methods of forced confessions any more.

I had been quite healthy when I was arrested in 1996. However, when I flew back to London late 1997 I was diabetic (no one had it in my family) with high blood pressure, and my kidneys were impaired. Twice they had to rush me to the hospital when I was on the verge of conking off. This digression is with reference to the joke that some PML-N leaders made of Bilawal’s announcement regarding his father medical clearance.  This mocking at Zardari’s health predicaments by PML-N, and the Interior Minister’s diatribe against Bilawal, is the manifestation of the pathological mindset that made people (including PML-N members) make fun of Mian Sahib’s cardiac condition.

By their analogy, Zardari Sahib’s stay abroad and Prime Minister’s frequent visits to and long stays in London – were both due to GRS syndrome. Mian Sahib is believed to have developed his cardiac problem when General Pervez Musharraf arrested him in 1999. Having suffered stress myself, I know what it is and how it wrecks up health.

MNS’ period of incarceration and his sufferings are peanuts compared to AAZ suffered during eleven years of imprisonment, attempts to kill him in jail and all sorts of torture that Mian Sahib’s favourite IG Police Rana Maqbool inflicted on him. What did Zardari end up with? During his long incarceration he developed diabetes and high blood pressure—a dreaded lethal combination. Immediately after his release he had a heart problem. He had to go through coronary angioplasty in Dubai and four stents were put in his arteries. Later, with more problems and more stents, he received long cardiac treatment and rehabilitation in United States.

Many journalists earnestly ask me what is good and bad in Zardari in my assessment. I don’t know what to tell them and avoid answering, but when they insist I tell them that such questions should not be asked from a person who has been very close to him, Bibi and their children. I tell them that if I spell out AAZ’s good qualities you will say I am his chamcha and you will not accept them. If I point out his failings – you will say not enough. People believe in their perceptions.
As a student of history, I would say AAZ’s greatest achievement was sustaining of democracy for five years through hell and high water – a historic event – and transfer of power through vote. Prior to this, no lesser achievement was his bold and courageous stand to save Pakistan from fatal consequences that looked imminent in the country wide violent rage after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He and Bilawal stood up as a bulwark to save Benazir’s Pakistan from breakup.
In my eyes his monumental contribution was the 18th amendment in the Constitution of 1973. It was to secure federal unity. He transferred arbitrary powers of the President to dismiss elected governments to the prime minister – as was in the original Constitution. He gave up his own powers as President and made prime minister real chief executive. This amendment made constitution most formidable unifier and binding force for the federation than the religion. It greatly dissipated inter-provincial disharmony and brought provinces together.

Throughout the period that he was President he pursued Shaheed Bibi’s agenda of national reconciliation and Charter of Democracy. He showed large heartedness, tendered an unconditional apology to the people of Balochistan for the sins of omission and commission committed against them in the last 50 years. He also announced an economic package for the upliftment of Balochistan that resulted in enormous development, job opportunities, health and education, road net work, hospitals etc. As per Charter of Democracy, the media remained free, journalists were allowed free for all and one could proudly claim that there was no political prisoner.
No doubt CPEC is a game changer. It will open floodgates of economic prosperity. However, it is rather criminal and callous not to give credit for it to AAZ.  He was the person who set the ball rolling for CPEC, visiting China 9 times to take it forward and convincing the Chinese that Pakistan was serious in developing economic ties with seminal consequences and windfall profits for the two countries and the region through development of Gwadar Port.

It was he who awarded management of Gwadar Port to a Chinese company, canceling its running by the Singaporeans. The difference between him and MNS is that he moved very quietly but made substantial progress away from the focus of our adversaries. He convinced the Chinese to invest in power projects throughout the country. Leading commentator Hassan Nisar’s outburst in his Geo TV programme the other day, reminding viewers of Zardari’s contribution to CPEC, should put his critics to shame.

Yet another game changer was Zardari’s signing of gas pipeline agreement with Iran. It was totally in defiance of the Americans who had put economic sanctions on Iran. It was a major foreign policy step establishing the fact that Zardari could act independently in the best national interest. He believed Iranian gas could help Pakistan overcome its energy problem and he went for it not caring for the displeasure of vested interests. Now, one does not know what is happening to the Iranian gas pipeline project. It is feared that the project is in jeopardy.
I am sure people would still remember that in the last days of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan had lost its writ in Swat and Malakand to Taliban leader Mulla Fazlulla-notoriously known as “Mulla Radio”. His fighters were reported to be 80 miles away from Islamabad and his partner Mulla Aziz had already established his Headquarter in Red Mosque under the nose of ISI.

It was under Zardari’s leadership that bold decision was taken to militarily get Swat and Malakand vacated from the stranglehold of terrorists. Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was keen to go in but he wanted political support. PPPP government put itself behind GAPK wholeheartedly despite opposition by PML-N, PTI and those religious parties who wanted that negotiations be held with Taliban leaders and supported a policy of appeasement. ANP, MQM and Baloch political leaders supported PPPP’s stand and military operation. Indeed, it was a major achievement of Pakistan army that they got cleared 17 areas out of 19 of the terrorists and managed the exodus of over 250,000 residents of Swat to move out and come back within two years and start their business and lives as usual.

Out of 19 only two areas had remained uncleared by 2013. General Kayani could have gotten them cleared too but for the Nawaz government that delayed action. Months were lost in vacillation by the government. Had it been launched earlier Zarbe Azb would not have taken that much of time to clear North Waziristan and Fata when in much shorter time 17 areas were cleared of the terrorists during PPPP government.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Is it an obituary? Sometimes i am reminded of Brutus speaking over the Death of Julius Caesar and sometimes it reminds me of Mark Anthony doing the same over the body of Caesar. The writer fails to mention the vindictive character of the subject he admires most. There is a wide spread allegations about his role in the demise of Murtaza B.hutto. Political and Medical exile does strange things to leaders in exile. The writer has done a usual a wonderful PR job for the Bhutto family

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