Friday, April 13, 2012

Zardari's years in office

It has become more of a hobby to make caricatures of President Zardari. Social and electronic media has become more of  circus which had made the art of criticism disgusting. The use of words and satire are not only illogical but also don't conform with facts. Frugal words and taunt is all what anchors have against the president.

I consider Zardari to be the best post-Bhutto civilian president in Pakistan. Analytically speaking, he solved a nexus of problems confronting the country; problems ranging from constitutional labyrinth to provincial despondency. I'll be proving this claim in the article below.

We should first know about pre-Bhutto civilian presidents of Pakistan:

Mr. Fazl ilahi became the president after the 1973 constitution came into being. The president only had symbolic value and couldn't interfere in the working of the democratic system. Mr. Fazl ilahi was only a dummy head president with no real power whatsoever.

Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mr. Farooq Laghari respectively became president in the post Gen. Zia period (1988 onwards). Gen. Zia-ul-Haq made the office of the president extremely powerful. The general added the infamous article 58(2)B into the constitution, giving president the power to dissolve assemblies at his own will. The office of the president was protected by Article 248 of the constitution which gave these president total immunity for any action he are she performs in office.

The 1988-1999 era was a period of musical chairs in Pakistan's politics. Article 58(2)B - the sword of Damocles - was repeatedly used to oust democratic governments:

  1. Ms. Benazir Bhutto's PPP led government (1988-1990) ousted by Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan
  2. Mr. Nawaz Shareef's PML led government (1990-1993) ousted  by Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan
  3. Ms. Benazir Bhutto's PPP led government (1993-1996) ousted by Mr. Farooq Laghari
  4. Mr. Nawaz Shareef's PML led government (1996-1999) ousted  by Gen. Pervez Musharraf
Such were the times faced by Pakistan. There was no political certainty, hence forth, no economic certainty. Governments were formed and expelled by undemocratic means. The balance of power favoured the president making him the agencies 'man in office'. Right wing politics took an exponential boost and situation never came under control. Whenever political stability was observed, the president toppled the civilian system and never allowed democratic ideals to flourish. Even Mr. Laghri -Ms. Bhutto's right hand in office- was tempted by the power of 58(2)B, consequently ousting his own prime minister from office.

Mr. Waseem Sajjad became twice the president of Pakistan in an interim setup. No major politcal decisions are made during interim governments. In 2002, alleged corruption cases were made against him, but he wasn't proved guilty.

Mr. M. Rafiq Tarar was a benign president in Mr. Shareef's 2nd term. Although he had the power of 58(2)B with him, but couldn't use it. It was an army coup which ousted Mr. Shareef for the second time from prime minster-ship. 

As we can see, the presidential office has always played an evil role in the constitutional history of the country. Weak bureaucratic and governmental mechanism allows corruption to flourish. This is what we are experiencing today.

Asif Ali Zardari
With this background, we can analyses how Mr. Zardari has been for Pakistan. 

  1. When President Zardari ran for office, the province of Sindh loudly chanted the slogen 'Pakistan na Khappay' (We don't want Pakistan). The situation was extremely delicate and non-Sindhis living in interior Sindh could easily conjure the consequences of such an atmosphere. Sindh was on fire, and independence from Pakistan was the prime objective. At this point, President Zardari successfully turned the tide from the slogan of  'Pakistan na Khappay'  to a new slogan, something like 'Amreiyat na Khappay' (We don't want military rule). It was an historic occasion, as a single spark could had created problems for the existence of Pakistan. PPP being the strongest federalist party had the power to do anything with the federation.
  2. Mr. Zardari started reconciliation with Baloch groups, MQM, ANP and with PML(N). This again was an unprecedented move. In Pakistani politics, it's near to impossible to let down one's ego. PPP being the largest federalist party started the process of reconciliation, while according to rule, there was no need for such reconciliatory behaviour. After Ms. Bhutto's assassination, PPP could easily had won the election if they had chanted Anti-PML(N) slogans in Punjab. As we have seen, it is easy to mobilise people on emotional rhetorics. Mr. Zardari abstained from such tactics.
  3. Just a week after he became the president he successfully held a mutli-state meeting named 'Friends of democratic Pakistan'. Pakistan got a massive amount of aid. US also paid 'democratic' dividend to Pakistan which positively affected Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves.
  4. The NFC (National Finance Commission)  awards is one of the greatest milestone for the present government. NFC was in dormancy for the last 30 years as a feasible formula for monetary division couldn't be reached by the provinces. Awarding the NFC allowed the long standing prejudice against Balochistan to be resolved. The demand of adding the 'inverse population' variable to the NFC award formula was accepted with consensus. This was due to the reconciliatory attitude of Mr. Zardari.
  5. Mr. Zardari was able to get back the Pakistan Scientist Mr. Chisti who was in jail for the last 20 years in India. No president or prime minster was able to do this. This again is a mammoth achievement for Mr. Zardari.
  6. The Benazir Income Support Program, initiated by President Zardari, distributed $2.25 billion  amongst the poorest of the poor. The distribution mechanism was made transparent by allowing the opposition to distribute money in their respective constituencies. Hence, no one has challenged the transparency of  the support program. This is a small step towards a future welfare state.
  7. The sword of Democles - Article 58(2)B - was handed back to the prime minister of Pakistan. Such an act of trimming once ego in extremely rare in Pakistani politics. It takes courage to hand down legal power to someone else. 
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

The downsizing of presidential  power has ushered a new era of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Rusted and formerly rubber stamp prime minister is now in full control of the rudder. The office of the president has again became ceremonial as per the 1973 consitution guidelines.

With all theses achievements,  President Zardari needs a big hand of applause from the nation. It's not bad having enemies, as Churchill rightly said:
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

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