Asif Ali Zardari found himself caught in the eye of a violent storm following the cold bloodied assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 when she had returned to Pakistan to free the country and its people from the stranglehold of military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, his coterie of Generals and self-seeking opportunist politicians many of whom are now serving selected Prime Minister Imran Khan and his puppet master as cabinet ministers.
Asif Ali Zardari’s life ever since he got married to Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has been a long travail of unending challenges as rightly put by his daughter Bakhtawar in her article published in News (Sept 13) as ‘always persecuted never prosecuted’. Indeed, as Bakhtawar wrote, ‘after the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari found himself at the epicentre of a broken country. He had to console a nation in mourning, suture together a party battered and wounded, resentful and hurt. How do you make up for such a colossal loss? How do you move forward? He found leadership in coming together “Pakistan Khappay” and direction in her vision “Jeay Bhutto”. Pakistan was a hairline away from being declared a failed state with almost daily terrorist attacks.’
Writes Bakhtawar: ‘The PPP government of 2008 had a lot to overcome. It was Asif Ali Zardari’s resolve that despite all the political turmoil and natural calamities, despite all the terror threats, he pushed ahead to resurrect the vision of his late wife by ousting the longstanding military dictator Musharraf without bloodshed, impeachment or domestic unrest and re-establishing the foundations of democracy for which she laid down her life. One of his first acts as the president was wilfully surrendering his presidential powers to Parliament thus restoring its supremacy.
‘Previous dictators had usurped this power to dismiss elected governments through presidential ordinances. By doing so he became the first president in history to voluntarily give up his powers. His was a coalition government of consensus and reconciliation with monumental achievements like creating the first social safety net, The Benazir Income Support Programme, that empowered women in low income households. He promulgated the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan that devolved powers and funds to provinces allowing for more provincial autonomy and equitable distribution of resources. In the backdrop of the World Recession as well as the height of the war on terror, his appointed governor of Punjab was murdered in cold blood; his minister for minorities was assassinated. The threats could not be understated. His government was always treading on eggshells, as no democratic government before it, had ever been able to realise a full term in power.
‘Despite very serious reservations on the 2013 election, and lack of a level playing field for the Pakistan People’s Party, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari oversaw the transition of power from one democratically elected government to another. This process was intrinsic to the evolution of democracy in Pakistan. The years leading up to the 2018 elections saw Pakistan slipping back to old ways. This time the face bearer was going to be Imran Khan. He led a campaign based on guile and gumption, election slogans of complete hyperbole and hysterical claims of repatriating 200 billion dollars of looted money stashed abroad by opposition leaders. This was well orchestrated chaos, politics not of policy but of person. Spewing hatred in public gatherings for the leaders of the last 10 years, bifurcation of the youth and fanning the flames of religious bigotry. The campaign slogans read that all aliments of Pakistan were due to their “corruption”. He spoke openly of his fan boy vision of a glorified Pakistan era under the military rule in the 60s and early 2000. The biggest irony is Pakistan has never had an uninterrupted period where democracy was allowed to flourish.’
Indeed, the greatest crime committed by Imran Khan backed by his uniformed collaborators was to create a hatred for civilian rule. Though he claimed to have struggled for 22 years in pursuit of his unbridled political career, as a politician he had earned national notoriety for his contempt for Parliament as manifested in his lack of attendance in Parliament, deeming it as a wasteful exercise. ‘Cursing even the very existence of the Prime Minister House like it was a personal property of Zardari or Sharif. This leaflet of propaganda was well backed, funded and sold to the masses. A direct repercussion of this were the corruption allegations brought against Asif Ali Zardari.’
Earlier Asif Ali Zardari had spent more than 11 years behind bars during the second PMLN government when its hatchet man Senator Saifur Rehman followed by dictator General Pervez Musharraf after the October 1999 coup while keeping Zardari in prison spent millions of dollars in hiring foreign detectives and investigators to unearth Zardari’s alleged corruption. It all ended in a pyrrhic exercise in futility and having kept incarcerated and tortured for eleven long years plus, Zardari got acquitted one after the other through the courts and legal processes. Though he faced it bravely all the prosecution and persecution, in the process he had to pay a heavy toll with his health as reflected now in his precariously deteriorating health condition with impaired heart valves, high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes with a severe back problem debilitating his movements.
The most ignominiously noticeable feature from the time of his marriage to martyred Benazir Bhutto and after has been him being made a most vitriolic target of vendetta loaded disinformation campaigns that have continued beefed up by the Establishment never to let Zardari have peace. Remember one must that in the week before the 2018 general elections; a hysterical frenzy broke out on all media channels of alleged corruption allegations against AAZ. The timing of it mirroring the likes of the Hilary Clinton email fiasco without paying attention to the Wikileaks revelation that it was the then Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani who had sent a secret mysterious message to US Secretay of State Hillary Clinton delivered in person by military’s confident currently Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
Like his father-in-law Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was subjected to kangaroo court trial on trumped up murder charge, AAZ is also going through similar legally illegal contrived fabricated cases at the hands of government appointed notoriously reputed NAB judges and FIA investigators under instructions from their boss who made newspaper headlines by establishing a record in extracting kisses from a NAB victim. ‘In the following weeks, the matters brought against Asif Ali Zardari were suddenly elevated from the banking courts in Karachi, to the highest court of law – the Supreme Court in Islamabad due to “slackness in the progress of pending enquiries” on fake bank accounts. This was an unprecedented legal move where a pending enquiry on private intra-banking transactions was considered slack. The Supreme Court had overstretched its insight deeming it as a matter of fundamental rights thus exercising its suo motu powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.’
Bakhtawar Bhutto has a right to lament when she states in her article: ‘It is unfathomable to understand how slackness was a legal reason when the judicial and wrongful murder of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1979) and the case of the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (2007) are still pending in our honourable courts for decades. I understand there may be benefits of judicial activism in cases of swift justice but for the first time we see our courts entering into a phase of judicial expediency with selected justice.’ Indeed, as Bakhtawar rightly says putting her father and aunt on Exit Control List amounts to further curbing their human rights. Despite these stumbling blocks AAZ was elected from his constituency on July 26, 2018 regardless of these blatant attempts to tarnish his campaign. Even the notion of him returning to Islamabad was bound to ruffle feathers. Election day was a complete debacle and deserves an entire chapter on the vast contraventions of the Election Act. ‘Our Rangers went from securing polling booths to counting votes, in the absence of polling agents. They wanted my father out of the political scene but here he was elected by the people right back in the heart of the capital as an elected member of the National Assembly to defend what he had so carefully put together – the institution of democracy and supremacy of Parliament’
As if that was not enough the morning the House gathered for the prime ministerial vote – arrest warrants were issued for Asif Ali Zardari. Instead of attending Parliament to vote, he had to be rushed to court for seeking bail. ‘Simultaneously, our prime minister began his maiden speech where he hurled direct threats, vowing to persecute and imprison his incumbents of the last 10 years. This would be exactly the course of events that followed. In the following months, several PTI top ranking ministers met privately with the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, where the government endorsed his call for collecting donations to build a dam. The same Chief Justice ordered to form a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with extra constitutional powers including members of the secret service (ISI) with the purpose to investigate the intra-banking transactions case alleging involvement of Asif Ali Zardari. Clearly this was not a matter of funding terrorism nor a matter of national security. It was just a gimmick of national propaganda and well orchestrated chaos.’
Despite IK and the Establishment on the same page and Army Chief General Bajwa beholden to each other as collaborators, as PTI government moved on it got exposed that as a total failure with no road map for economic recovery from total bankruptcy. It had no vision. ‘They had set the nation on a course to nowhere. A government of oxymorons, clearly confused and absolutely useless. However, what they have mastered is a fascist form of government of slander and accusations against the opposition to divert attention from the relevant, curbing liberties and rights of the press and the people. During the JIT investigations, the PTI minister of information would repeatedly pre-empt legal developments on national television. There was no subtleness in their collusion. They wanted to undo what Asif Ali Zardari had done in his tenure, and destabilise the majority PPP government in Sindh’.
As such as revealed by PTI law minister Farogh Nasim, a diehard member of MQM now that had got hold of Karachi through terror, body begs and bhatta collection, that Karachi’s administration needs to be taken over by PTI’s federal government. As a consequence they started openly denouncing the 18th Constitutional Amendment, questioning why funds had to be given to the provinces. ‘This debate took place in tandem with carefully orchestrated corruption allegations against Sindh cabinet members. The speaker of the Sindh Assembly was suddenly arrested, without any probe or investigation, on frivolous charges of “assets beyond means”, and he still remains in custody.’
An excellent piece by Bakhtawar on the sad travails of former President Asif Ali Zardari. It was suspected, now it has become clear why the Establishment and its puppet pm wants AAZ out of the way as he remains the most formidable stumbling black in the fulfilment of their conspiracy to destroy a United Pakistan. It was probably 2018 when Army Chief let the cat out of the bag by openly saying to a select group of journalists that 18th Amendment was as bad as separatist leader Sheikh Mujiur Rehman’s six points that dismembered Pakistan by establishing Bangladesh when General Yahya’s military junta refused to hand over power to elected representatives of the people. Now a similar junta with its civilian collaborator Imran Khan is hell bent in doing away 18th Amendment and its first victim is AAZ. Time for the nation to pay attention to Bakhtawar’s warning, get united to put up resistance to the unfolding conspiracy. Veteran journalist late Majeed Nizami once rightly complimented Zardari for his perseverance as “Marde Hur”—valiant freedom fighter– that he proved he was by standing up in defiance against those forces that erupted to disintegrate Pakistan after the countrywide anger had spread like a wild fire following the assassination of martyred Benazir Bhutto. It was his courage that saved Pakistan from sure disintegration at the hands of violent fissiparous forces let loose by the junta following assassination of country’s dearest daughter. It is, indeed, his determination and firm commitment to Pakistan that perhaps can save it again.
Disclaimer: Surkhiyan believes in freedom of expression and providing space for views and opinions from all sides. But we may not agree with everything we publish. The views expressed in this op-ed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Surkhiyan. We do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.