An Unpopular Man

Benazir Bhutto made the mistake of returning home and lost her life. Pervez Musharaf made the same mistake and lost his liberty and Asif Zardari by staying on in Pakistan, rather than leaving, risks losing his life and liberty.
One would have thought that was obvious not only to Zardari but also his soothsayer on whose predictions he is said to rely so much. Why then is Agha Siraj Durrani telling us that President Zardari intends to reside in Pakistan as plain Mister Zardari when his term ends on September 9, 2013, by which time the immunity he enjoys would have lapsed?
Besides, was it not Zardari who once said his abodes in Pakistan were “either jail or the prime minister’s house”? So, why tarry when it obviously can’t be the PM House? Clearly he thinks he can beat the odds – and why not?
Recall, after setting aside Zardari’s conviction in the SGS-Cotecna cases on the grounds that the trial judge was overheard receiving orders from Shahbaz Sharif, the Supreme Court remanded the case for trial in the accountability court (2001). Soon thereafter Zardari produced a doctor’s certificate stating he was unfit to stand trial on account of ‘dementia’. The court, to the surprise of many, accepted his plea and as a result no retrial took place.
Although ‘dementia’ is a progressive disease with no chances of recovery, Zardari who had been suffering from the ailment for five years made a miraculous recovery. So much so that by early 2008 he had recovered sufficiently to be elected president of Pakistan.
Curiously, neither the Election Commission nor the courts asked the doctors who had declared him unfit to stand trial to certify he had recovered from his ailment and was, therefore, fit to hold high office. Perhaps because no one except for his gullible doctors in New York had the slightest doubt that Zardari had his wits about him.
Actually, Zardari’s memory has always been as good and as selective as ZA Bhutto’s. He too never forgets a favour or an insult, although unlike Bhutto, he is more forgiving. Living well, he believes, is the best revenge. The bit about democracy being “the best revenge” was his wife’s idea. It would never have occurred to him.
As President, Zardari claimed he had immunity from prosecution (Article 248 of the constitution) and although that claim has yet to be adjudicated the furore his supporters threatened in case his immunity was revoked seems to have prevented the court from taking up the case long enough to enable him to complete his term.
For the moment, Zardari’s retrials are on hold, but they will automatically resume once his immunity ends, a fact he should take into account when assessing the risks he faces by remaining in Pakistan. Or perhaps he has but believes he can ward them off by, for instance, claiming he had suffered a relapse, although it is doubtful if such a claim, even if backed by a doctor’s certificate, would be accepted by the court.
But he need not lose heart. It’s never easy to pin a corruption charge on anyone in Pakistan, not only because those who take kickbacks or bribes don’t give receipts but also because the way the system works here it is difficult to affix responsibility. The decision-making process is hugely convoluted. Moreover, courts are scrupulous when evaluating the evidence and if the evidence is not incontrovertible, like in the Justice Nizam case, the courts will rightly throw it out.
That said, most believe the SGS-Cotecna matter, in particular, is an open and shut case and yes, although there is nothing that a miracle cannot fix, why risk a miracle to get off the hook. Surely catching a plane out of the country is less risky.
A further threat to Zardari’s liberty stems from the Supreme Court’s decision of November 3, 2007 declaring the NRO void and ab initio and all proceedings and orders passed, and appointments made, under that regulation to be illegal. Viewed thus, Zardari’s own appointment – and that of his appointees – is illegal and they will have to pay back moneys received, perks taken, pensions claimed, etc, etc.
Perhaps Zardari thinks all that will cause too much of a commotion. Moreover implementing the judgement will not be easy. It will require an enormous amount of investigative work with the sitting government having to present all the findings to the court for scrutiny and the case may go on for years.
As it happens, there is a long list of pending charges (comprising 34 pages in all) against Nawaz Sharif personally which also fall within the purview of the NRO and to which his counsel entered no reply in the Zafar Ali Shah case. These cases will stand revived if the NRO decision is implemented. Clearly, therefore, Nawaz Sharif has much to lose too if the NRO decision is implemented. Nevertheless, for Zardari to bank on his political opponent to pull his chestnuts out of the fire appears foolish – although poetic.
The threats to Zardari’s life seem real enough. The murderous skills and the determination of his enemies to harm him should not be underestimated and perhaps for that reason alone a rethink on his part about remaining in Pakistan seems advisable. Besides, Zardari is not a popular man. It is only among his very closest supporters that one finds anybody who has a word of praise for him. And those who do are themselves regarded very poorly.
It’s not as if he will be missed or that he is an asset to his party. If anything, the election results proved he is decidedly not.
But so consummate are the political skills Zardari possesses in the view of many, and such is his luck that one reluctant admirer felt that “he will wheedle his way out of trouble much as he has done in the past”. “Nobody can touch him”, said another, “because he’s incredibly lucky and incredibly rich”. “God too, seems to be on his side”, said an otherwise pious man.
But lest some misunderstand even those of us who worked for his wife and loved her, but always held Zardari in little esteem, don’t want him imprisoned unfairly and certainly not harmed. It is punishment enough that he should be accused of betraying her legacy, destroying the party she gave her life for and effectively ending its presence in three of Pakistan’s four provinces.
There is no fiercer hell than failure in a great purpose. Having achieved that dubious distinction, Zardari should go into mourning for life, and advisedly abroad, because if he were to remain here and stay visible his presence would serve as the proverbial red rag to the bull. Pervez Musharaf can vouch for that.
It would be best, therefore, for his own sake – and also to spare the country the trauma of possibly seeing two prime ministers and a president in jail – that Zardari bid adieu to Pakistan and opt to settle in his villas in London, Miami, New York, Paris, etc, etc, etc – perhaps to write the expose he has promised of his disastrous but eventful tenure.