“There can be no such joke any more,” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Zardari remarked when asked about becoming prime minister after having a stop-gap premier till his election to the National Assembly.
“I will not assume the office of the premier during the current term of the National Assembly, and in future too I would never vie for the slot,” he said answering questions from The News at a dinner he hosted for media men on Friday night.
His surprising, rather unbelievable, response belied the widely held view that the PPP nominee for prime minister’s slot would vacate the position for Zardari after the PPP chairperson’s election in the by-poll from assassinated Benazir Bhutto’s native National Assembly constituency of Larkana.
Zardari meant to say that he would not be another Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who got the office of the premier just for a couple of months till the election of Shaukat Aziz to the National Assembly to assume the coveted slot.
Zardari doesn’t want to be premier, as he desires to look after the party affairs effectively and said it would not be easy for PPP workers to meet him if he becomes prime minister. The workers, he said, have to be further organised as the party was required to be kept vibrant to prepare for all challenges.
“Will you meet President Pervez Musharraf and when?” this correspondent further asked. “May God not will so,” he said in a lighter vein.
Zardari has no plan to meet the president and said it would be for the prime minister and the ministers to do so. “I have nothing to discuss with Musharraf.”
He did not agree with the suggestion that the “force in his punch” would be too great in the first couple of months of his government during which he could change things radically. He did not want to enter the corridors of powers with a bang.
What he said and signalled repeatedly was that he wants to proceed in a cautious, measured and calculated manner. He tried to dispel the impression that the PPP is out to demolish the strong state pillars that have been movers and shakers of successive governments.
But at one stage, he said of the establishment, since “the camel is incapacitated because of being under a heavy weight for the first time”, all spheres would be corrected and rectified in a smooth manner. “Everything is covered when we say parliament will be strengthened. We will not only keep harping on it but would be taking practical steps for the purpose.”
“It is for you to be watchful and do analyses,” Zardari said when asked whether he was aware that by not joining the next cabinet Nawaz Sharif was going for long-term politics and eyeing the next parliamentary elections.
He dropped not even a slight hint to budge from his “independence of judiciary” stand despite aggressive insistence of a couple of colleagues to be clear, unambiguous and committed on the restoration of the deposed judges, and to reinstate them moments after the PPP takes over the government.
Before the argument further heated up, another colleague intervened and extricated them. “Most of your perceptions may be totally wrong,” a colleague made a dig at Zardari. “But this could also be true in your case as well.”
The row reached a stage where Zardari said with his peculiar smile, “you do your job and let me do mine.”
When a journalist told him that the entire print and electronic media would stand with the next government if it instantly restored the deposed justices, Zardari said, “I know the precise strength and power of the media and how far it can stand on an issue.”
He said if the judges were restored on day one, the government would also go home equally swiftly.