Zardari Out, Benazir In, Mullahs Out

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Views: 6753
6753

To Pakistan's ex-Prime-Minister, Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Zardari's release from eight years of a punishing imprisonment-never, ironically, sanctioned by a court of law--may well seem a 'victory of justice.' But is it really a judicial coup, or a political gambit by the Musharraf regime wrapped in judicial trappings?

From the day he was nabbed, on November 4, 1996, by a political rival of Benazir, it was clear as day-light that Zardari was a political pawn. Corruption charges and criminal cases were subsequently instituted against him to give the powers-that-be an alibi to keep him in the slammer. In other words, the basis of his incarceration was not juridical but political. The intent of the Nawaz government, and of its successor military regime, had always been to use his incarceration as a bargaining counter in a game of political wills, and wits.

The impression that the end of Zardari's prison nightmare is a political act of the government of the day was given out by Shaikh Rashid, the Information Minister, who has been the regime's mouth piece on all matters political. He is reported to have said, as soon as the apex court granted bail to Zardari, that the catalyst for it was an earlier high- level official meeting in Islamabad that decided to let Zardari go. Which, paraphrased, amounts to saying that the government gave the green light to the Supreme Court to accept Zardari's bail request. This, if true, would be a terrible indictment of the supposed independence of our judiciary and expose it to the charge of taking dictation from the executive.

Or is it that the government, faced with a supreme court decision taken independent of it, is now putting its own spin on the outcome to make it look like an initiative of the government, and not a coup by the country's top judiciary?

It is an interesting fact that the judiciary, time and again, challenged and crossed the will of the government during Zardari's internment. The country's higher courts granted him bail in a large number of cases; threw out several spurious cases against him; and quashed the accountability court's verdict that robbed him of opportunity to run for election from his prison.

It would be no exaggeration to argue that all through Zardari's battle of wits with the government, the courts came out strongly in his favor. Which translates in common language as courts battling to establish their oft-usurped independence in the cover of the country's most celebrated politician rattling sabers with the political masters of the land.

What Shaikh Rashid was saying, in fact, was that the government had done a favor to Zardari. This is also what a spokesman of the National Accountability Bureau said in so many words that, for the moment, no new cases would be brought up against Zardari. 

Reading between the lines of both Rashid's and NAB spokesman's remarks one gets the sense that the powers-that-be have opted, for the moment, to treat Zardari with the kid gloves.

But governments don't do favors to arch political rivals for nothing, or without a deal. And implicit in the government partisans' trite comments is the leitmotif that the favor to Zardari is precisely the quid for his quo, or that of his wife.

But Zardari, for the moment, is robustly in denial of cutting any deal with the government. He has a point in insisting that if he wanted to cut a deal with the power brokers he could have done so years ago and wouldn't have languished in jail for so long.

But what Zardari is not saying, and would be understandably reluctant to admit at this stage, is that a deal is like a nuclear fission that doesn't occur until the critical mass is reached. Previously putative deals fell through because the ingredients then on offer were not attractive enough for the parties concerned. The deals in the past, invariably, required Benazir Bhutto to quit politics in return for her husband's release. That, it seems clearly, is no longer the case. The 'ground realities', by now a thoroughly hackneyed phrase of Pakistani politics, have changed, and changed drastically.

What has never been a conundrum in all 8 years of Zardari's excoriating detention is that he was never the party his tormentors wanted eclipsed from Pakistan's political horizon. They were after Benazir and Benazir only; Zardari just happened to have the right neck to put the noose around in order to squeeze her. Zardari was the proverbial fall guy made to take the plunge into the abyss for the sake of the lead character in the drama.

So Zardari was kept in the slammer, despite periodical attempts by courts of law to set him free. It was hide-and-seek that the government and the courts played with Zardari in the middle. Zardari's gaolers had hoped that the prison would break his nerves and the will of his better half. But both of them soldiered on, to their abiding credit. In the end their grit and resilience not to buckle under enormous pressure paid off.

However, both of them are astute enough not to kid themselves into believing that it was the steel in their souls that melted the glacier-deep ice in Islamabad against them. General Musharraf, for yet unexplained and hard to decipher reasons, had consistently marked a congenital antipathy to both BB and his other nemesis, Nawaz Sharif.

9/11 and its aftermath gave Musharraf the broom to sweep the political arena of Pakistani politics clean entirely for himself, and the stick to keep both his political foes out of it. Zardari, caught in the middle, found the room for his release constricted and the walls closing in on him. Musharraf had powerful friends and mentors at the epicenter of global politics condoning each and every of his moves to chill out BB, as of course Nawaz too.

But three years down the road from 9/11 the ground realities have changed for both Musharraf and his powerful patrons. Mired in both Iraq and Afghanistan the neo cons, rightly or wrongly, think the situation in the latter could still be salvaged if Pakistan's political landscape were redrawn. In their analysis of the obtaining reality, the groundswell of right wing political leadership in the Pakistani areas contiguous to Afghanistan has been sustaining the ongoing Al Qaeda and Taliban resistance to U.S. military presence. That spring-well of support will have to be dried up for the U.S. offensive to stand any realistic chance of success. 

That is where BB's return to the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics, at its hard core, becomes unavoidable and a foregone conclusion, now that Bush is in for a good four more years in Washington and hubby Zardari is out of the woods.

BBs return to Pakistan is now as good as written in the sand. Only she, at the head of a rejuvenated PPP, has the charisma and loyal political following to dislodge the mullahs of MMA from the terrain they managed to occupy in her forced absence from the scene. Those, inside and outside of Pakistan, paving the way for her return know this too, as does BB herself.

The only imponderable at this early stage, when Zardari has barely had time to catch his breath in the fresh air outside the prison, is what kind of a 'deal' has been struck between Musharraf and Zardari to enable BB to come back home in dignity, if not in triumph. A deal has been struck, that's for sure, no matter how vehemently Zardari or BB may deny it. The subdued tone of Zardari's press statements and interviews to media speaks volumes of a deal. It isn't that prison has mellowed the man-it might actually have. But the shrewd tactician in him must be telling him that discretion, at this stage, is the better part of valour.

The question mark, as of now, hangs on where would she fit into the present power arrangement in Pakistan? What would be her place on the chess- board?

Chairmanship of the Senate has been touted, in some media projections, for her. But that can be ruled out as a damp squib as far as BB's own estimation of her place in Pakistani politics is concerned. The powers-that-be, inside and outside of Pakistan, is also conscious of it.

Nothing short of her becoming prime minister, third time around-and hopefully third time lucky, too-would be acceptable to her. 

To make that possible, the answer lies in holding fresh general elections. That would be the most feasible, convincing and clean option to see BB rehabilitated. That's what she had wanted all those years of forced exile abroad. 

Fresh general elections, the talk of which has been in the corridors around Washington for some time, would also be the face saving for Musharraf to see his arch nemesis installed in the office of the prime minister in her own right and with the blessings of the people of Pakistan. It would also save Musharraf the embarrassment of, otherwise, getting rid of MMA through non-constitutional or questionable means. He shouldn't repeat the mistake of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by giving the boot to the Assemblies of Balochistan and N.W.F.P. A transparent and universally acceptable method of fresh elections would, automatically, sweep the decks clean of them.

That bodes ill for our 'short-cut' Aziz, the recently installed PM. But that's where the chimera of a 'deal' takes on the shades of savvy pragmatism. Much as Musharraf may hate to see an abrupt and early end to the just-starting-to-bloom political career of his whiz-kid prime minister, that's a price he will have to pay. No wonder Aziz, conscious of it, is embarking on overseas journeys with zest. Common sense may tell him, bask in glory for as long as the sun is out there for you.

The author is a retired Pakistani ambassador who served 35 years in active diplomacy (Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, China and Macedonia).


  Category: Asia, World Affairs
  Topics: Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan
Views: 6753

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Older Comments:
YOUSUF FROM USA said:
I find myself in concurrence with the editor on his point about political manipulation. Allow me to add a couple of additional points that may clarify this assertion:

The feudal politicians, self-righteous elites and army-generals have a tradition of conspiracy theories and rumor-mongering.

Could it be because Mr.Ghori has a bone to pick with the current regime? Apparently, they had audited the books during his tenure as ambassador to Turkey and he asked for an earlier retirement to Canada. Mr Ghori had claimed that the musharraf government owed him money withheld due to policy differences.

Or could it be a window of opportunity for Ms Bhutto (and her toadies and conspirators) with religious-right & extremists influenced bush regime putting pressure on musharraf to find a way to get rid of the Islamist MMA? The MMA are proving to be a powerful group of religious leaders deeply opposed to musharraf's pro-bush (anti-Islam) policies and who have surged into the political vacuum.

Mr Ghori is a great admirer of Ms Bhutto - for the above reasons and for her negative Ataturk qualities. No wonder, he seems to relish using the derogatory term MULLAH for maulvi, maulana or sheikh, who may not be very politically astute, nevertheless represent a vast constituent.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the army-generals call the shots. And unfortunately, the instructions for these come from Unle Sam. When Bush speaks, Pakistan's army general not only listens, but in most cases, carries out the job dutifully.

Let's pray to Allah (SWT) to protect Pakistan and its largely honest and hardworking common man and woman from all the anti-Islam forces. Ameen.




2004-12-08

AHMAD F ALAM FROM UK said:
Does Mullahs out equate to Islam out? Seems so. What on earth is a Zardari and Benazir praise peace doing in Iviews? What have they done for Islam, or Pakistan for that matter? They are looters the pair of them. Benazir is in the Guinness book for world records for obtaining the greatest percentage of votes in a constituency, how? Because she owns her seat! Who would vote against their landlord? Her return would be a very bad omen for Pakistan, one worries about what sort of horse trade the General/President has in mind.
2004-12-08

AH FROM USA said:
What Pakistan needs is a leader who will put the people interests first. Work to eradicate social inequality and poverty. Level the playing field for all. Not fill their own "coffers" with Treasury funds. There is ample evidence that both Nawaz and Benazir and his husband have drained the country's resources and purchased acres of land in the UK and other countries, set up Swiss bank accounts etc. in the billions.
The people are too mired in their own problems to know any better. They cannot do much. What the country needs is a major political overhaul (cleanup).
2004-12-03

YOUSUF FROM USA said:
Pakistan has more than its share of corrupt and opportunistic leaders and elites.
Having said that, a quick review of this article and the comments reveals the following cast of characters:

THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS ELITE: These are mostly the former or retired Pakistani civil servants or military officers, who may have earned their holdings not the hard way and who may now be residing in cozy locations - mostly in the West. Some of them like to do arm-chair analysis and tabloid journalism- either to pass time or to create fitnah. Some of them also do freelance work for various agencies! They are all part of the problem and not the solution.

THE ZIONIST CHRISTIAN & EXTREMISTS: These are ones with the Armageddon mentality and their own version of what is right, wrong, good, or evil. They may have paranoia about Musharraf's coalition with the Islamist group - MMA. They may have fear that the next person to occupy the chair or the next Army Chief may be someone with a beard and no taste for whiskey. They don't care if the will of the people of Pakistan is forsaken for expediency or the so-called "freedom and democracy" sacrificed for Realpolitik.

THE RSS/SEV-SENA/BJP TYPES: The hate campaign against those of Pakistani or Kashmiri Muslim descent in general and Islam in particular, is one of the objectives of these Hindu-extremists.

The saner-elements of the world recognize that no nation has a monopoly on virtue, probably see the situation in countries like Pakistan as an abuse of power by both the internal and external factors to the detriment of the hardworking common man and woman of Pakistan.

For the largely honest ad hardworking silent majority, working under such political masters is like trying to win a 100-meter race with a mill-stone around the neck

In sum, Pakistan is long overdue for a complete overhaul - from top to the bottom of its army-general, feudal politicians and bureaucrats.



2004-12-03

AYESHA FROM USA said:
There is nothing intelligent about Benazir ( not to hurl any insult or anything).

She failed her history course at Oxford. However, from another standpoint, intelligence is not enough to carry you through the day. One needs to be equitable, compassionate, just and charismatic to be a leader and she and her cronies just don't cut it. No matter what her "image" may be in the West.
That is the bottom line.
2004-12-03

PETER FROM UK said:
Zardari has the political astuteness of a fly. His wife was used and is an anathema in terms of her highly regarded intelligence in the west.
2004-12-03

ADIL IMTIAZ FROM USA said:
Useless article. Please get rid of Benazir and Zardari. They should be banned from politics.
Anyone but them!

Please help Pakistan by not allowing these clowns to run again.
2004-12-02

AYESHA FROM USA said:
I think that it is implorable that anyone would applaud any "efforts" by Zardari and Benazir. It is not secret that they are one of the biggest crooks in the history of Pakistan. The alternatives don't seem all too promising either, but to praise the former regimes of the PPP is blatantly false.
2004-12-02

ZAFAR FROM ENGLAND said:
Salaams,

Benazir Bhutto is not only a corrupt and incompetent 'leader', she's also a traitor (all the comments she made in regards to Pakistan's nuclear program).

I am neutral in regards to democracy or dictatorship, both are neutral positions. The only real substance is what is best for the people and nation as a whole.

(The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and not the marketing)

She ought to be hung for her past actions, along with the current military ruler and some of the Mullahs.

To apply labels like democracy, dictatorships and Mullahs is over simplifying the actions of individuals and their parties and nothing more.

Finally does the author really believe the Benazir Bhutto would not have taken the opportunities opened up by 9/11 ?

Did she not take opportunities to better her financial status during her first two terms.
Perhaps the author has not heard of the saying, once bitten, twice shy as obviously he thinks third time 'lucky' is more fitting!

Either he's very nieve or he takes us all for idiots.
2004-12-02

AKBAR KHAN FROM CANADA said:
You as the author of this article, and Pakistani Ambassador to various countries, show such a one sided, blinded support for previous regimes of Pakistan, because they paid, and financed, and fed you by hand when you worked for their parties during their power trips over the last 35 years - and this is the reality sir.

Your article reflects how you have been spoon-fed green bills from autocratic regimes over the last 35 years in Pakistan while you served as Ambassador of Pakistan, hosting many different nations...yet you do not acknowledge with even a single WORD!, that you served under political parties that make a sick and twisted mockery of claiming to represent Islamic values - Instead, you cover for them.

Your article is definitely loaded with bias for these previous regimes - I feel that you are behaving just in the same manner as Benazir Bhutto and her erotic fantasies, because she was exiled, and therefore you are venting angrily just in the same way she has for the last what, 10+ years now?

I find it at the same time intriguing as to why this article was put up here...there is no significance in the return of Benazir Bhutto, and her like minded husband, to Pakistan; nor does this article give any plausible resolution to the corruption scandals that have plagued Pakistan for decades.

We do not need fakers anymore - We do need shakers and movers who can affect a change for the betterment of their people, positively, not by finding faults in everything, yapping and pretending to fix it!!! OKAY? So we all know what's the problem and honestly, Bhutto doesn't want TRUTH - she wants her power back.


Ghori Sahib, while your stomach is always satisfied, while your short biography is seen worldwide...I have one request from you.

Speak with love for Pakistan and satisfy our hearts with the belief that there is still a chance for Pakistan to truly live up to why she was founded in the first place
2004-12-02

ROMESH CHANDER FROM US said:
Poor Pakistanis! They always end up with the worst of the worst, most corrupt of the corrupt. First Bhutto, the Zia, then Ms Bhutto, then Nawaz, then Ms Bhutto again, then Nawaz again, and then Musharaff. Now, it seems that Pakistan will be blessed with Ms Bhutto again. The only consolation is that their leadership will not be as bad as that one Haiti, if that is any consolation.

Can't people of Pakistan develop political institutions which can provide better leadership?
2004-12-02

SOHAIL FROM NEW YORK, USA said:
Another example of failure, where the crooks go free and fight to rob Pakistan again, whereas the poor and honest wonder when will there be justice in Pakistan!!
2004-12-02

AKBAR KHAN FROM CANADA said:
Let's be honest....the governmental system, whatever you want ot call it, in Pakistan has been corrupt and crooked ever since Benazir Bhutto's father and possibly even before him. Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Zia Al-Haqq, of recent memory, were all liars, big time. Zia Al-Haq sent Pakistani soldiers to Jordan and massacred thousands of Palestinians; Nawaz Sharif was a mobster and molester of the land - he was a downright thug...Benazir was a showpiece, that really was the wrong thing at the wrong time. If she was really interested in the benefit and prosper of Pakistan, she would have made peace with India the way there is now. Regardless of what people may think, how Musharraf is America's pet toy....if he did not do what he did, Pakistan would be in that state Afghanistan is in now, and on the flip side, he could have shown more backbone for his nation than he has. He has made good choices, but wrong ones at the same time. I don't like him or consider him to be some hero superstar, but he was, and is better than Benazir Bhutto's money laundering scandal system that she learned to conduct from her father's Prime Minsterial time.
2004-12-02

BOB FROM USA said:
Lets be an honest journalist, i.e speak & write TRUTH.

Ex-Prime-Minister, Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Zardari's are corrupt & so are & were the rulers before & after them.

2004-12-01