The martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto left millions of her followers grieved and angered who took to streets destroying everything coming in their way particularly in her home province- Sindh with slogans ‘Pakistan na khape (we do not want Pakistan). The PPP was rudderless and the senior leaders were shocked and demoralized until Asif Zardari came on the scene with his well touted slogan ‘Pakistan khape’ (we want Pakistan), waving a one-page document purported to be the will of his slain spouse to the shell shocked members of the party’s Executive Committee and took over as the leader of the PPP, kick starting the end of it as the subsequent years prophetically proved. Being the wrecker in chief of Benazir’s two terms, his critics were not willing to give him the benefit of doubt that he would make amends for his past blunders.
He opposed the postponement of the elections with an eye on the sympathy vote. The PPP came out with an edge over other parties. The leadership of the Muslim League displayed unprecedented flexibility and bonhomie to join PPP in forming a coalition government, with Yousaf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister. Also coalition administrations were put in place in Punjab, KPK, Balochistan and Sindh. Mr. Zardari did all this intentionally eyeing the top slot of President. The coalition government stepped up pressure on General Pervaiz Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. He had been weakened by the fallout of the judicial crisis triggered by him in November 2007 moving against the Judges of the superior courts. He decided to resign in August 2008. He was given safe passage with all trappings of an outgoing leader. Mr. Zardari was elected as President.
However, differences between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif over the restoration of Judges cropped up leading to the collapse of the coalition and the dissipation of the earlier euphoric political intimacy between PPP and PML-N. Both the parties relapsed in their old and no-holds-barred political antagonism. Mr. Zardari, in the meantime, had already achieved his objectives capturing all the top federal slots in Islamabad. Though PPP had absolute majority in Sindh, Mr. Zardari chose to have MQM in the provincial government with its activist, Mr. Ishrat ul Ibad continuing as the Governor, probably for the sake of peace and harmony in the province. This deprived the province of the services of opposition which is a sine qua non in democracy.
The fourth PPP government under Asif Zardari has some monumental achievements to its credit. It reversed the executive powers from the President to the Prime Minister burying the quasi-presidential governance forever through the wide ranging 18thAmendment and resolved the chronic controversy on provincial autonomy doing away with the concurrent list with and settling a host of important political and financial issues that included the National Finance Award, the expansion of the Council of Common Interest, the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and members of the Election Commission, the Interim Prime Minister and the Interim Chief Ministers and Chairman, National Accountability Bureau and other national institutions by consensus between the leader of the House and the opposition leader or by a Parliamentary Committee in case of disagreement.
The Amendment also expanded the scope of treason under the constitutional clause 6, barring the Supreme Court and the parliament to condone or indemnify any act violating the sanctity of the Constitution, abrogating, suspending or holding it in abeyance. This is expected to guard against any extra constitutional adventure. Interesting, the amendment has also done away the mandatory intra party elections – benefiting the leaders to maintain the dynastic stronghold on their parties.
Following the Amendment, the appointments of the Interim Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers in the subsequent general elections, and members of the Election Commission left much to be desired. The appointment of two weak Interim Chief Ministers in Sindh, Justice Zahid Qurban Alvi and Fazal ur Rehman, and Najam Sethi in Punjab who were skilled in playing on both sides of the wicket or saddling the octogenarian Hazar Khan with the onerous duty of the Interim Prime Minister in 2013 showed the vulnerability of the process to political trickery.
The Government remained embroiled in a long tussle with the judiciary over National Reconciliation Ordinance, the Swiss court case of $37 million and the Memogate involving Ambassador Hussain Haqqani. There were also violent jolts in the foreign policy domain that rocked Pakistan’s relations with India, and US. The terrorist attack on Taj Mahal in Mumbai created strong ripples in our muddier relations with India. The Kerry-Lugar Bill proposing $1.5billion in non-military aid to Pakistan on conditions unacceptable to the military hierarchy; the extraordinary increase in drone attacks in the Tribal Agencies with a lot of collateral loss of life; the arrest of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis; the US Navy Seals’ raid on a mansion near the premier military Academy in Abbottabad to eliminate the international fugitive, Osama Bin Laden; the NATO forces’ attack on the Pakistan military outpost at Salala killing 28 soldiers and injuring 12 were all monumental challenges and rocked the Pakistan-US relations to the bottom. However, the Zardari government weathered the fallout of all these political and foreign policy challenges.
The Kerry-Lugar bill was toned down after the protestation of our military brass to the US Ambassador, Annie Paterson and General McCrystal, the NATO Forces Commander in Afghanistan. General McCrystal publicly supported the reservations of Pakistani military leaders. The US military and non-military aid continued from 2009 to 2016 and was gradually stopped by President Donald Trump after his inauguration in January 2017. This helped the Zardari government to tide over economic difficulties in our foreign-aid tied economy.
The Zardari government could not remain free from accusations of corruption and malfeasance. The ruthless opposition kept bringing to public notice stunning case of corruption in WAPDA projects, power generation or power rental plants, development funds, refund of export rebate to fake companies through TDAP and sale of precious lands in Sindh attributing to the ruling lot the infamous sobriquet of ‘Ali Baba and forty thieves’ with his Prime Minister not sparing even the costly golden necklace donated by the Turkish First Lady to the flood fund in 2010. The old cases against Mr. Zardari did not move ahead because of the constitutional immunity to him as President.
Mr. Zardari chose to sacrifice his first Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, rather allowing him to write a letter in compliance with the Supreme Court directive to the Swiss authorities for the revival of the $37million case. Mr. Gilani took the plea that the President enjoyed constitutional immunity at home and abroad from prosecution. He allowed his successor Pervaiz Ashraf to write the letter after the record of the case was retrieved from the Swiss authorities through the High Commission and, as reported by the media, sifted by an able advocate.
The Zardari government for the first time after Z.A. Bhutto completed its 5 year tenure and transferred power to the winning PML-N after the general elections of 2013. This was in itself a big achievement that goes rightfully to the credit of Mr. Zardari.
(To be continued for evaluation of the three terms of Mian Nawaz Sharif).
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