It’s not that the realisation that there is a need for a change in Pakistan’s political scenario has receded, but the hopes — since the Multan by-election earlier this month — seem to have dissolved somewhat into fears and scepticism.
President Asif Ali Zardari is a great planner. He has been planning his course probably since after his marriage and certainly since 1988, the year that his wife emerged triumphant despite great odds stashed against her by what is known as the establishment. Devious plans too often tend to go astray and President Zardari has had his share of relatively tough times — his VIP status and vast funds normally guaranteed that steering his path through various forms of imprisonment (mostly in hospitals) was veering on the comfortable. That is not to deny his great staying powers, fortified by his clever-in-the-extreme forward planning.
His major and most valuable breakthrough was presented to him on a gilded platter by a desperate General (retd) Pervez Musharraf who, hand in hand with his European and American allies and his DG-ISI (now President Zardari’s COAS), thought up and implemented the criminal, unlawful and immoral National Reconciliation Ordinance. That was President Zardari’s jumping block and coupled with the tragic assassination of December 2007, propelled him into a very hot and safe seat. (In keeping with Pakistani tradition, the assassination remains unexplained, though the widower on more than one occasion has said that he knows exactly who the culprits were — but the knowledge cannot be shared with the nation).
From the leadership of the PPP, covering for his son, who was conveniently fitted out with the Bhutto name, to the presidency and guaranteed immunity was no difficult leap. It all happened smoothly — Musharraf being no match for President Zardari’s street-smart out-manoeuvring. That could be counted as his first real triumph. From then on, in masterly fashion, he has skilfully dealt with every political opponent that has cropped up, neutering the greedy and ambitious with alliances and coalitions. He has manipulated many of his party members so that he is sure of complete loyalty where it matters. The mighty military has succumbed, its leadership being vulnerable to charges of the usual misdemeanours, coupled with unfortunate errors. It is solely the Supreme Court which is putting up some sort of resistance to his admirable machinations, the ‘immunity’ being the top priority and to blazes with anything else — constitution and law included. And the ‘carefully choreographed’ apology offered by the US is a vast fig leaf behind which he can lurk and still deliver what is expected of him.
So now, he is sitting pretty. Thus far, elections are not part of President Zardari’s immediate planning and some commentators have it that he will manipulate matters quietly and cleverly from behind the political stage, so that they are extended even beyond March 2013, on to the time when both the COAS and the CJP have completed their tenures. And along the way, when his five-year term expires, he will ‘arrange’ to be re-elected as head of state — by that time a totally discredited position.
And who’s to stop him? Is there anyone, in or out of uniform, fit and able to do so? Elections are a sham, the new chief election commissioner notwithstanding (some wits have it that he is a consensus candidate because he is 84 years old). The band of seasoned relics that form the general political leadership to whom elections are the healthy lashings of the butter they heap on their bread can easily outfox any and all members of the Election Commission. They have been at it for years and their extended families are fully and ably trained.
This is a grim scenario for anyone waiting for a miracle in the form of change. President Zardari and his band are entrenched, as are his opponents (apart, perhaps, from Tsunami Khan), when it comes to ballot boxes. But then, as for President Asif Ali Zardari, there is the old saying — the higher the rise, the steeper the fall.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.
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