Is he really the king of Byzantium, the grand master of intrigue, the uncrowned political oracle? Four years into his term despite all odds and even his detractors have come to peddle with glee his mythical abilities. Leading media analysts eulogize President’s panache for conjuring rabbits out of thin air, his brilliance in stitching opposites together. The evidence cited is his longevity at the perch despite gale force winds, judicial thunder and media lightening. To set the record straight, he has indeed survived a range of crises. From Memogate to judicial rubbishing of NRO to disqualification of his PM and a public sector eyeballing bankruptcy, President has courted crises like Don Juan did nymphets.
Yet he is around, unfazed and unperturbed behind the impregnable walls of Presidency. But is that the whole story? Does he really deserve the titles being bestowed on him? While he certainly deserves a pat on the back for his street smartness, the real perpetuators of his stay have been the conspiring circumstances. A unique confluence of factors beyond President’s control strait-jacketing the very forces that have long hewn the course for Pakistan.
Three key factors have helped President Zardari survive the judicial/media onslaught despite unprecedented mismanagement. Foremost has been Army’s aversion to intervene for several reasons. Haunted by Musharaff’s poisonous legacy, devastated by the discovery of Osama in its own backyard, Army has taken hits smack in the face and now carries a swollen, bloody nose. Forced to operate in the shadows to recuperate and rebuild, Army may be seething with anger but has lost the moral halo and the aura of invincibility.
An extremely assertive Judiciary bent on claiming space in the national discourse and its public rebukes of military takeovers has only pushed army further on the back foot. Army’s messianic fervour, therefore, stands dampened all the more so given their full time occupation with the war on terror. That Nawaz is no more a credible alternative in the eyes of Army has also helped President Zardari in no less a measure. The biggest threat contained, President could focus all his wile on navigating through the judicial chasms and the media storms.
Tired of Army’s duplicity in the war on terror, West put its weight behind the elected civilian government. Military had been tried and tested before. That Zardari frittered away the support in the Western capitals is a consequence of monumental bad governance on his watch. Thirdly, President has been demonstrating great panache in keeping his greedy coalition partners satiated.
A testimony to his wheeling dealing skills was at display again when Raja Riaz was able to secure 211 votes while he needed only 172. That President has been able to rein in both ANP and MQM despite having competing interests is also a study in flexibility and graft. His alliance with PML-Q is perhaps the icing on the cake given PPP’s historic hatred of Chaudhrys of Gujrat. In short, possessed by the desire to stay in office come what may, President has had a no holds barred tango with the willing partners pulling out all stops to woo and seduce few at the expense of many.
The bottom line is that Zardari is still there having successfully ridden the worst of storms. But what about corruption and bad governance, nation’s bed fellows for the last four years? Our tendency to see Zardari’s dogged survival in isolation blinds us to the disasters that happened on his watch. Yes he is there but at what cost to Pakistan? Is mere survival a commendable end when all else is falling apart? These questions have to be answered to make a conclusive judgment on Zardari. Truth is Karachi drowned in blood on president’s watch. This happened despite the fact that the major claimants of Karachi (MQM, PPP and ANP) are all part of the ruling coalition. So why have they not been able to sort Karachi out?
The answer is incompetency, blatant greed and indifference of frightening proportions. Less said about the economy the better. This government holds the dubious distinction of being the biggest borrower in our history. How will this debt be paid off remains a mystery. Perhaps by printing notes which will only compound the already rampaging inflation. Public sector enterprises like PIA, Pakistan Steel, and Pakistan Railways have caved in under the weight of corruption, gross mismanagement. The crowning glory is the unprecedented power crisis, the likes of which Pakistan has not seen. Hundreds of industrial units have shut down and millions rendered jobless. Most embarrassing has been the disqualification of President’s own PM, who embraced martyrdom (sic) fighting a shameless war to protect his President’s loot.
It is obvious that President owes his longevity to others than any innate brilliance at political intrigue. Zardari may have won the battle of survival but he has lost the war. Public polls increasingly testify to an astonishing loss of popular support for PPP. Given the magnitude of his failures in governance, the preeminent responsibility of a government, his claim to fame for being the ultimate survivor carries little weight. Zardari’s myth, therefore, stands busted.