With the withdrawal of the nomination papers by MNA Faryal Talpur, the rumours that PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari may withdraw have been put to rest. Since the announcement by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that, Asif Ali Zardari will contest the elections for the office of the president of Pakistan, all guns have been trained on the PPP as a party and Zardari as an individual.
It appears that the political success of the Pakistan People’s Party over the last few months has really worried its detractors as they find it difficult to counter the party politically, therefore a propaganda campaign has been orchestrated. This though is nothing new for the Pakistan People’s Party that has garnered the highest number of votes in most elections it has contested barring a few where the dice was heavily loaded against it. Its political might is based in the fact that as a genuine political force not only has it captured the imagination of the millions but it also is the only truly federal party. All attempts to weaken it over the years have failed miserably. The tragic physical elimination of Benazir Bhutto provided another chance to the forces of regression to try and destroy the party but it proved more resilient than many had thought and remained united and politically successful. This could not be digested for long by the forces that have always sought power through back door conspiracies. Hence PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has been targeted with a smear campaign as had been done in the past with both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. The political failure of these forces of regression and autocracy leads them to rely on propaganda to try and cloud the judgment of the people of Pakistan. The arguments and allegations against Zardari are repetitive. Neither did these have any weight in the past, nor will they have in the future.
A cursory look at the performance of the Pakistan People’s Party’s performance since the demise of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto will help highlight the reasons behind this over-reaction of the PPP’s detractors. No reminders are needed to tell that this party performance has been under the leadership of Zardari.
From the first challenge, the question of succession, Zardari has been able to lead this most important political party of the country with the full realisation that the stability of the party was crucial to the stability of the political structure of Pakistan. Faced with such an enormous challenge he could be lured by those who wanted to divide the country on sectarian, ethnic or political grounds. If he had been driven by personal emotions or even personal vendetta the above course would have been the easiest to follow. But he expressed his belief in the unity of the federation by denouncing the slogan of ‘Pakistan Na Khappe’ and calling for ‘Pakistan Khappe’.
After leading the Pakistan People’s Party to an election victory which in the absence of Benazir Bhutto was no mean feat, he managed to convince the party to elect a prime minister belonging to Punjab, again reflecting the true federal colour of the party.
As the party and its leadership was closely following the course of reconciliation preached and practiced by Benazir Bhutto, Zardari refused to pick on the offers of the establishment that could result in PPP-led coalitions in all the four provinces besides the federal government. This could have given the party a so-called secure future in power, but power was not the objective. The objective was across the board political reconciliation. Therefore, it did not matter whether you were in coalitions as a junior partner or as a senior partner. And that status was determined by the actual number of seats won in the direct elections.
The objective of broad political reconciliation was again demonstrated when Zardari tendered a public apology to the people of Balochistan for the treatment meted out to them by Pakistan’s state apparatus. Such an apology from the head of the largest political party of the country did help soothe some of the wounds inflicted on the Baloch psyche over the years. This spirit of reconciliation was also on display in the province of Punjab, where Zardari and Pakistan People’s Party preferred to join hands with Mian Nawaz Sharif. Instead of colluding with the PML-Q and trying to take over Punjab, the PML-N was given a free hand to rope in independents and form its government. It may be recalled that Punjab holds the largest number of seats in the National Assembly and taking control the government there can help lay foundations of future political alliances and influences in the province. In NWFP where independents could play a crucial role, the PPP opted to have an alliance with the Awami National Party. Those new to politics may know that traditionally ANP and PPP pitch for the same section of the vote bank in the province. Despite that, both the parties are working together without any major issues. In Sindh despite some reluctance of the PPP’s local leadership the party Co-chairman approached the MQM to ensure that the rural-urban harmony in the governance of Sindh can be maintained. In Balochistan a large coalition was managed in the same spirit. In the peculiar circumstances of Balochistan it was important to have a government that represents all sections of the Baloch society.
It will be unfair not to praise the political acumen of Zardari exhibited in the way President Mushararf’s ouster was managed. After successfully establishing governments in the centre and in the provinces he set about working on President Musharraf’s exit in a calm and calculated manner. It must have been a surprise for Musharraf also that when it was finally announced by the political forces that it was time for him to go, his departure was very quick. It must be remembered that in the past such departures had always led to grave constitutional and legal crises. Only in the last year when the judiciary was relied upon to deliver such a blow to Musharraf we had seen a whole year of uncertainty and bloodshed on the streets of Pakistan.
With these successes on the back of Pakistan People’s Party and its leadership it was politically logical that it should stake its claim to the Presidency. After all it has the votes and it is staking its claim through constitutional and legal means. The irony is that those who raise full-throated slogans for democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law are not ready to concede that the PPP is exercising its political right.
Since there is no moral justification for these forces to oppose Zardari’s candidature they have launched an immoral vilification campaign. Its timing points to the involvement of suspicious elements that have never allowed a democratic and pro-people governance structure to take root in Pakistan. These tactics will only push Pakistan back to the old political order that threatened the stability of the country by way of political mudslinging and victimisation. The nation has repeatedly rejected such a political culture and for the sake of the nation, this should be abandoned.
Knowing fully well that the old allegation won’t work some weird stories about the PPP Co-chairperson’s medical conditions were planted in the media. These stories were based on illegal and distorted release of privileged medical records. It is a universal ethic of the medical profession that medical practitioners protect the privacy of their patients. In fact in the developed world doctors are administered oath to commit to this. But then no one had the courage to actually challenge Zardari’s candidature on these bases, as these were fake to begin with.
The bogey of the NRO is raised again and again and it is argued that perhaps the PPP Co-chairperson wants to protect the NRO that is why the judiciary is not being restored. Nothing can be farther from the truth and reality. Asif Ali Zardari endured eleven years of jail in different periods without any conviction. The same was true of the late Benazir Bhutto against whom no charge could be legally justified. The state machinery backed first by Nawaz Sharif and then Pervez Musharraf could not prove anything anywhere in the world against the PPP leadership. In fact the judiciary was used as a tool again and again to persecute and vilify the PPP leadership. Telephone recordings of some of the then judges being influenced with the purpose of getting verdicts of the choice of anti-PPP forces are now public knowledge. Even if the NRO is withdrawn, these cases stand no chance in a court of law.
The NRO was conceived against this background where not only the political leadership but even those who worked with them in official capacities were targeted. It was not at all PPP-specific as has been projected and propagated. Other political parties gained much more from the ordinance. It must be remembered that ordinance was strictly meant for those who had been falsely implicated in fake cases for years. Any student of Pakistan’s political history will agree that fake cases are a normal practice to keep the political leadership and workers under pressure.
The list of beneficiaries of the ordinance includes seven Sharif family members, five PML-N leaders, two leaders of the MMA, two MQM leaders, 31 PML-Q leaders, five heads of different banks and the Leghari family. The ordinance actually provided relief to only five PPP leaders.
While debating the NRO, its other aspects are conveniently ignored. It in fact was a comprehensive document that played a critical role in facilitating the transition to democracy. The ordinance contained measures to ensure free and fair elections. It proposed amendments to the Representation of Peoples Act, 1976, a popular demand by the political parties. Its proposed measures that later helped in ensuring a transparent election.
Some of the detractors are themselves beneficiaries of shady deals with the last military dictator and cases against them were dropped when they decided to be part of the Muhsrraf dispensation. The PML-N is even considering an alliance with these beneficiaries like Chaudhry Shujaat, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao and various others. They were all part of the Musharraf regime and enjoyed perks of power. In fact even our media has not tried to investigate enough on the actual beneficiaries of the ordinance and report it for public consumption. In the meantime presumptive thesis and pre-conceived notions continue to permeate the debate on the issue.
The truth of the matter is that the NRO has snatched the long stick of so-called cases from the opponents of the PPP that was used for political victimisation and false propaganda. These cases and the subsequent propaganda again prove the point that all those forces that fail to counter the PPP in the field of politics rely on judicial manipulation to keep the PPP out of power.
There is a certain group of power seekers in Pakistan that has always thrived in non-political set-ups and that group keeps working to return Pakistan to apolitical governance structure. Hence the argument that the Presidency needs to be occupied by a non-partisan, non-political person. The President of Pakistan must be a person who is from the field of politics — grassroots politics, so that the presidency can have a link with the people instead of making it some illusionary castle — the occupant of which must be a figure with a halo of light around him.
The Pakistani nation is going to elect a president for the first time who will be a national level politician. Since Sikadar Mirza most of our history has seen presidents that represented the establishment in one way or the other. Farooq Leghari though became President through a political career but had a background in the civil bureaucracy. There were exceptions like Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry who were also not national level politicians.
This is an opportunity for the nation to correct the historic wrong where the presidency was used to counter politics. Those who believe that politics and democracy is the way forward must not be afraid of a political president.