No other leader of Pakistan has ever created such a huge political mess in such a short time as President Asif Ali Zardari has. What the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto took six years to destroy, Zardari has destroyed in six months as the
President-- namely, the credibility of Pakistan as a state, its institutions and its unity as a country and as a people.
Z.A.Bhutto came to office after the defeat of Pakistan in its war with India in December 1971, with considerable goodwill not only in Pakistan, but also in India. He was the toast of the people of Pakistan and its army after he succeeded in persuading Indira Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister, at the Shimla conference in July,1972, to release and return to Pakistan nearly 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, who had surrendered to the Indian Army at Dhaka at the end of the war.
Thereafter, his arbitrary style of governance, his intolerance of opposition and a free media, his jealousy and suspicion of political rivals, his indifference to the grievances of the Balochs and the Pashtuns and his use of ruthless methods against his political opponents resulted in a no-holds-barred confrontation in the streets between him and his opponents. The Army under Gen.Zia-ul-Haq, who had been hand-picked by Bhutto as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) superseding other capable officers senior to Zia because of Bhutto's confidence in Zia's personal loyalty to him, moved in to take over power. Zia set in motion the train of events, which led to the execution of Bhutto.
It took a little more than two years for the negative traits in Z.A.Bhutto to come to the fore and transform him into a possessed man determined to destroy himself. It has taken hardly a few weeks for the negative traits in Zardari to come to the fore-- the same arbitrary style of governance, the same intolerance of opposition and a free media, the same jealousy and suspicion of political rivals, the same indifference to the grievances of the Balochs and the Pashtuns, the same use of ruthless methods against his political opponents, the same inability to see the writing on the wall.
The writing on the wall is there for all to see-- ras-le-bol as the French, who came out in the streets in 1968 shouted. Meaning "fed up". Large sections of the Pakistani society are just fed up with him. But, he doesn't realise this.
The rest of the world was not as much concerned over what was happening in Pakistan in the 1970s as it is now. In the 1970s, when Z.A.Bhutto was ruling, there was no jihadi terrorism, no Al Qaeda, no Taliban, no danger of jihadis getting hold of nuclear material. Only India, being the neighbour, was concerned over the mounting opposition to Z.A.Bhutto.
Today, Zardari is the President of a country, which is the spawning ground of all the jihadi terrorist groups of the world which pose a threat to international peace and security. His inability to focus on the fight against terrorism and his playing petty politics against his political opponents at a time when a jihadi tsunami originating from the jihadi epicentre in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is threatening to sweep across the country is a matter of concern not just to India, but to the entire world.
Instead of realising the gravity of the situation confronting Pakistan as a result of his sins of commission and omission, he seems determined to continue on his path of confrontation with the opposition forces led by Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister. Neither friendly, but firm warnings from the US and the UK nor reported expressions of concern by Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the COAS, have had any impact on Zardari so far. Even if he is prepared to restore the government headed by the Pakistan Muslim League *(Nawaz) in Punjab, which he removed so arbitrarily, he seems disinclined to make any other compromise in order to defuse the confrontational atmosphere building up in the country.
If the confrontation continues, will Gen.Kayani take over as Zia did in 1977? As of now, Kayani seems disinclined to take over. He had seen for himself how unpopular was the military rule under Gen.Pervez Musharraf. He had also seen how he was hailed by the people of Pakistan when he ordered after taking over as the COAS, all army officers in civilian departments to return to the barracks. He knows that if he took over he would be seen as no different from Musharraf, Zia, Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan. According to reliable sources close to the Army, he would like to go down in history, like Gen Abdul Waheed Kakkar and Gen.Jehangir Karamat did, as a well-liked General who could have taken over if he had wanted to, but refrained from doing so in the interest of the country.
At the same time, he is reported to have made clear to his political masters that he would be constrained to intervene if the confrontation is not defused and the security situation in Pakistan further deteriorates as a result of it.
Zardari and his advisers may succeed in thwarting the so-called Long March to Islamabad by the opposition, but this is unlikely to help him in regaining his credibility and the country's goodwill which he seems to have lost.
This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article of February 27,2009, titled Back To Being Pakistan
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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