A Year Of Zardari

Saturday, September 12, 2009
Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto

Mumtaz Bhutto

Mumtaz Bhutto

The present dispensation is the direct result of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s murder. It is believed that the deal sponsored by the Americans between Musharraf and her, was “Plan A.” She deviated from this on her return to Pakistan and had to be eliminated. This is a view recently supported by Gen (Retd.) Aslam Baig, former chief of army staff. Thus, the standby “Plan B” came into operation and her long-estranged husband came on the scene. A controversial and often-questioned will emerged, according to which Asif Ali Zardari was made co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party.



It is not astonishing or surprising that Plan B has worked. The rot that set in with Zia’s success in corrupting not just politics but the very mindset of people, and is a practice advanced by all his successors to facilitate a shortcut to power. Thus even the most sceptical elements in the PPP found it expedient to climb onto the Zardari bandwagon. High offices, membership of assemblies, advisory positions and access to the corridors of power was just around the corner, and it became imperative to pretend that the emperor was fully clothed. “Democracy is the best revenge” was the absurd slogan coined to bury the murder of Benazir, while referring the matter to a UN tribunal was done to seek a permanent closure of this sordid chapter.

Thus began the journey to Olympus at the foot of Margalla Hills fuelled by the endless use of the “Jiay Bhutto” slogan and crocodile tears for Benazir. Meanwhile, people continued to be fed the stale promise of not only their supremacy but the forty-year-old clich’s of roti, kapra aur makan and that democracy was gospel and Parliament sovereign. To this was added the concept of reconciliation and change of the system. So at the end of a year of Zardari’s presidency, let us see where we stand:

The negation of the promise of the supremacy of the people is the unkindest cut of all. They have been abandoned to murderers, thieves, kidnappers and highly corrupt jiyalas and bureaucrats who are on the rampage. Instead of making policies and initiating reforms that bring progress and prosperity, addiction to begging is being spread through the Benazir Income Support Programme. For a paltry one thousand rupees a month, men and women are made to prostrate themselves in the heat and dust, most of them returning empty-handed. As for provision of cheap flour this is nothing short of an insult to the people since the majority get nothing even if they are lucky enough to escape a beating by the police. Moreover, this is not enough: when they get home there is no electricity and water while education and medical treatment remains only for the fortunate. Other basic amenities are also scarce and the whole administrative edifice has collapsed. Yes, there is plenty of roti, kapra aur makan, but only for the rulers and their sycophants [e.g. this and this and this and this and this and …] .

As for democracy, there is none. What we have is only a change of faces from the Musharraf days. Almost two years have passed but both the 17th Amendment and Article 58 (2)(b) of the Constitution are still there. The repeated promise to restore the superior judges was fulfilled only after the pressure of the long march was too much to bear. As for the powers of the president and the prime minister, currently they are being exercised all by the president. The president undertakes trips to sign commercial deals, which is normally the job of federal secretaries. He has taken trips to China where he received no presidential protocol. He went to France to sign an agreement to purchase submarines, even though it was reported in the newspapers that cheaper subs were being offered by Germany, and that such a deal was reportedly in its final stages. And then there are the frequent mysterious trips to Dubai and London. All this raises serious question since on many trips the president is accompanied by individuals who in the past had been accused of corruption, and some were even convicted — but then exonerated thanks to the immoral and unconstitutional NRO.

As regards the supremacy of Parliament this has become a cruel joke. Laws are continuously being made not by legislation but by presidential ordinances — and this is being done even when Parliament is in session. Another issue is the prosecution of Musharraf under Article 6 which, for some reason, has been made contingent upon a unanimous resolution in Parliament despite the fact that the consent of the institution’s members is not at all need for such action.

Vital problems, issues and questions of policy, relating to the dismal and rapidly deteriorating state of affairs in the country, are not brought on the floor of the House, which is also debilitated by the doctrine of reconciliation. This has all but put to rest the safeguards and checks provided by a valid and effective opposition, and the result is that the government has a free run to do whatever it likes. At the same time, another consequence is that Parliament is reduced to just being a heavy burden on the exchequer with each member enjoying pay and perks amounting to around half a million rupees a month. Ninety ministers and advisers in the centre alone, where only twenty have been enough, with each costing a hundred thousand rupees per day, is also an aspect of this “reconciliation.”

As for the change of system, it seems that for the president this means to replace all of the Musharraf era’s favourite officers with his own. The country is still caught in a highly centralised and dictatorial mode of governance — something which has led to its break-up in the past and which is generating dangerous fissures now as well. Pakistan is no longer free. It is sinking deeper into foreign control and into a war in its northwest which is not of our own choice and can never be won. The writ of the central government does not operate in Pakhtoonkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab, while Sindh is in the grip of criminals as personified by the late Rehman Dakait. The government is totally helpless, and there is no better example of this than its abject failure in controlling the price of sugar and advice by ministers to eat less sugar (on the apparent grounds that it is bad for health).

Some other shocking facts are: The country is barely surviving on earnings of Pakistanis abroad and internal and external loans. No aid is available despite the president’s overseas visits (with a begging bowl, of course). The Friends of Pakistan Forum, set up to bail out Pakistan, has not been forthcoming in its help and is also said to be having doubts on how Pakistan will spend the funds given to it. As for aid from America, it is now being promised in small instalments, and only after each instalment has been checked with regard to its utilisation. Transparency International has disclosed that in 2004 around 45 billion rupees were lost as a result of corruption and that by 2009 the figure will have risen to 195 billion rupees. The Fund for Peace located in Washington has placed Pakistan at number ten on the list of failed states while previously it stood at number 12, reason for this being lack of leadership and dubious measures such as NRO.

This epitomises one year of Zardari’s rule as president — quite possibly the worst this unfortunate nation has endured in its sixty-two years of existence.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.

Recycling The Twice Told Tales

By Rasheed Hassan Khan

We are a nation of escapists. We spend 24/7 whining and complaining about the problems we are confronted with. But when issues are discussed openly and on a national level, everyone feels perturbed.

The recent spate of ‘disclosures’ about how the ISI distributed money among certain politicians and media persons two decades ago is the current favourite in ‘twice told tales’ shows on almost all TV channels. One can recall the extensive coverage done by the media of the Yunus Habib/Mehran Bank scandal a few years earlier. So, why the encore? The answer lies in the establishment’s need to wean the viewers off the depressing political debates marked by demands for Musharraf’s treason trial, growing overt and covert US military presence in the country, uneasy political alliances and possible repeal of NRO.

The Zardari government has completed a year — a year of stagnation and inertia, useless power plays and idle showmanship. While the economic situation deteriorated, poverty and unemployment became rife, law and order saw a total breakdown, the NWFP and Balochistan suffered an insurgency and the country’s sovereignty was daily being violated by drone attacks.

Ironically it was the issue of the restoration of the judges that proved to be a turning point for the government. It ran the lawyers and the political parties which backed them in circles till it itself ran out of patience. However, as the history of Pakistan is replete with similar precedents, one or both the parties appealed to the powers that be. Not before long, the State Department stepped in and Gen Kayani intervened and played a lead role to end the crisis. The judges were restored but President Zardari had to retreat and the myth of his infallibility as a leader stood shattered.

At this juncture the contradictions within the PPP came to the fore and the monopolisation of decision-making by Zardari was met with resentment in the rank and file. However, as things stand today the prime minister, not the president, has been reduced to a ceremonial figure and the cabinet to a rubber stamp, parliament has become a debating club. The people had waited for long and wanted an end to lawlessness, unemployment, corruption and rising prices. However, this was not to be. As every student of history knows, American policy has always been to put their money on more than one horse in a race. Initially their attitude towards Nawaz Sharif was not so enthusiastic but the success of the Long March for the restoration of the judges threw a new light on him.

From a gullible simpleton he was transformed into a resolute leader, capable of decisive action when the need arises. The Long March also demonstrated his mass support in a convincing manner. Equally keen were all Americans who mattered and visited the country regularly to meet him. This was bound to give rise to grave misgivings in certain quarters. President Zardari responded by adopting a lower profile at home and trying to make friends in far off places, whatever the cost.

However, there should be no illusions about why the Mehran Gate Scandal has been revived at this stage. While it shows how the establishment interferes in the democratic process in the country, it also makes it amply clear how skilfully it changes the script of TV talk shows from treason trials to private greed of popular politicians. Yet, there is no denying the fact that there is no alternative to solving the real political, economic and social problems the people are confronted with today. For the current lot of politicians, whether in power or not, the only way to win a political battle is by gaining the support of the masses by their concrete actions to defend national independence, solve their basic problems and promote a democratic culture.

We are a nation of escapists. We spend 24/7 whining and complaining about the problems we are confronted with. But when issues are discussed openly and on a national level, everyone feels perturbed. The establishment, unless it suits its interests, raises the bogey of national security and those in danger of being exposed cry foul, and the people in general prefer easy answers rather than noisy acrimonious debates.

So, whenever a serious discussion on the national scale takes place, the establishment and all the culprits of past misdeeds, who are likely to be exposed in the process, warn of dangers of national disintegration, civil disorder and the apocalypse itself. This is meant to prevent a national consensus on the rights and wrongs in our national life. History does not provide nations with time out for discussion on their past deeds and misdeeds. So if we are to stop moving around in circles, repeating the same mistakes again and again, we must not resort to inventing excuses and avoiding difficult and unpleasant tasks but squarely face the task before us. Without clearing the Augean stables of our national life we cannot but live in vain pursuit of the ideal of a just and democratic society in Pakistan.

The most important thing is to determine the objective of this discussion. Why is this necessary? Because, those responsible for past misdeeds are resourceful enough to turn any constructive debate into sordid mudslinging and create a situation of confrontation between the political forces, thereby extricating themselves from an unpleasant situation. This has been the modus operandi during the last sixty years.

But the fact remains it is high time we looked into the root cause of our national malaise objectively. Our inquiry must cover the whole period from 1947 to the present day and not just the formation of IJI in 1988 and Mehran Gate Scandal in 1990 [disclosed in 1994]. Secondly, the media must refrain from sensationalising facts and allowing personal bias to influence the outcomes.

A great philosopher has said: ‘Those who do not learn from past mistakes are condemned to repeat them’.

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