Zardari played his innings well

This month, Asif Ali Zardari will step down as Pakistan's head of state and resume life as a citizen, hopefully living a comparatively quieter life in the confines of the Bilawal House in Karachi or Islamabad.

Of late, President Zardari has remained out of the news, preferring instead to leave the statements to officials.

He is expected to become even more low profile in the post-president days, focusing on reorganizing the party. But some say that this job of re-organizing, which is very much needed, will also have to be done by remote control.

After all, after leaving public office, Zardari is supposed to stay out of politics for the next couple of years.

But there is much to do. Most important is to train and put into place a political successor. Many are betting on Aseefa taking over. We will have to wait and see.

Love him or hate him, one can never underestimate President Zardari.

He has drawn circles around both political opponents and allies, at times having them eat from the palm of his hand and at others forcing them into isolation before graciously welcoming them back into his camp.

A master manipulator, Zardari's biggest achievement was that he ensured that the party remained in power for its full term and as a corollary, democracy remained alive in Pakistan for this unprecedented period.

A bigger achievement was that he graciously ensured that the election results in 2013 were accepted and that power was handed over without much delay.

In between, a lot was done that was less than desirable. The stigma of corruption in high places remained throughout the five years of the PPP government.

But to be fair, the other stakeholders ensured that there was never a dull moment in the PPP days.
One challenge after another was mounted against the government, at various levels.

Throughout his time as president, the media and the powers-that-be were unforgiving. His personal life was attacked.

Insinuations were cast almost daily. Allegations, both true and false, were made with glee.
Crusades were launched. But the president survived all this with a grin.

I recall on one occasion when Zardari invited columnists to dinner, the same men who dissected the man on a daily basis in their writings, fawned over him so that they could receive favours.

And they did. By and large, the media remained untouched by Zardari throughout his tenure.

Not a small achievement in a country where journalists are attacked frequently. Politics was a different ball game, but one that the president played well. Allies were made of enemies, only so that law and order could be ensured.

All major decisions, like the Swat operation and the drama that ensued beforehand, were endorsed by parliament. The pressure from allies was also handled well. Concessions were made. Compromises reached. Sometimes for the good of the country.

We saw the creation of Gilgit-Baltistan and reforms in FATA. The naming of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a long-standing demand of the people of that province. The long awaited 18th Amendment as well as the Benazir Income Support Programme, with all its faults.

But there were failures too, most notably the attempts to bring peace to Balochistan through the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-e- Balochistan programme.We saw Memogate. We also saw Zulfiqar Mirza's stellar performances that led us to nowhere. Then there were health issues that bogged down the president.

And of course the growing law and order situation in which both the president and the government seemed helpless. The only protection they ensured was to protect themselves even more.

The high walls around Bilawal House in Karachi, at great public expense and inconvenience, are a testament to this. Relations between the pillars of state were testy. With the armed forces, we saw a relatively better working relationship.

This also because of how external factors forced our hand.On the party front, President Zardari seemed more predictable. He brought in his own loyalists and favourites, possibly one of the reasons why his party performed so poorly in the 2013 elections.

For me, the biggest failure was, however, the fact that the killers of Benazir Bhutto could not be identified, let alone be brought to justice.

This will remain the unfinished agenda of the Zardari government.

The Express Tribune


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