With the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan People Party (PPP) faced a leadership crisis beside many other consequences in the country. Sooner the leadership issue was solved when it was announced that in her will Bhutto had named her spouse Asif Ali Zardari as her successor. However, Zardari transferred the responsibility of PPP chairperson to his son Bilawal Ali Zardari, who changed his name as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Now the spouse and son of Bhutto will shoulder the responsibility of running the party as co-chairmen.
During general election 2008 Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) won the largest number of National Assembly (NA) seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Though PPP won a majority of seats in the 342-member national assembly, or lower house of parliament, but not enough to form a government on its own.
The PPP needed support from other parties to formulate government. Zardari took wise and very right decision to make a coalition government with support from PML (N), Jamiat-e- Ulamai Islam (Fazalurehman group) and Awami National Party (ANP).
His vision was initially perceived as a lot of political energy creating agreements among different parties and interests groups in the context of national interest and his party organization.
Furthermore his willingness to reinstate deposed judges during a 2-party meeting (PPP and PML-N) in Murree where he agreed and signed an accord with Nawaz Sharif, his party had won a mandate from the people for its stand for the restoration of judges. The two sides agreed to push through a parliamentary resolution to restore dozens of judges forced out by President Pervez Musharraf. In return Nawaz agreed to share ministries offered by PPP.
Later during 1st session of National Assembly the announcement of 100-day plan through the Prime Minister Raza Gillani, to end house arrest of deposed judges, increasing minimal salary, to do away with the Frontier Crimes Regulations in the tribal areas, lifting the decades-old ban on student and trade unions, restoration of the deposed judiciary and lifting of curbs on media, was applauded by the people of Pakistan from every walk of life and hoped to have further actions.
Meanwhile certain corruption cases against Zardari in various courts continued the hearing and were cleared soon. Zardari, who has emerged as a frontrunner to lead a coalition had been cleared in all the cases by anti-corruption courts inside the country and abroad through the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a controversial law passed in October last year by President Pervez Musharraf to grant amnesty in graft cases to PPP leaders, including Zardari and his slain wife Benazir Bhutto. The NRO covers the period between 1986 and October 1999. Before this new government Zardari legal advisor, who is presently Law Minister, Mr. Faros Naek said the government had failed to prove any of the allegations of corruption against Zardari. Naek claimed there was no case pending in Swiss courts against Zardari and there were only 'investigative proceedings' pending with a magistrate in Switzerland since 1998.
Naek also pointed out that the Sindh High Court had issued an order to Pakistan's attorney general and the National Accountability Bureau to withdraw proceedings against Zardari in courts in London and Switzerland by March 31, failing which they would be liable for contempt proceedings and following that attorney general traveled to Geneva and London and withdrawn the cases.
Pakistan's Supreme Court issued an order upholding the NRO. Following this, the National Accountability Bureau decided to terminate several corruption cases it had pursued against Zardari for over a decade.
Anti-corruption courts have also ordered the release of Zardari's assets and properties that were frozen or confiscated. These included bank accounts and sugar mills. It is to remind again Zardari spent over eight year in prison following his arrest in connection with these cases.
Political sources say Zardari remained under heavy pressure from the United States and Britain, which regard Musharraf as a key ally in the "war on terror", not to destabilize the president's position.
After Murree accord, Zardari remained engaged in many other activities to establish new government. He had to make a strategic plan to run the government. He already cooked something when he suddenly called Altaf Hussain, leader of Mutaheda Qaumi Movement (MQM) in London and both leaders agreed after mutual understanding to share power in Sindh province and central government as well though he never required it! It was also crystal clear that the worst "law and order" situation where street crimes were prevalent in Karachi could not be improved while MQM remain on-board. Later Zardari never liked the counting down the days of deadline for restoration of deposed judges. He verbally just assured the media but never show commitment to abide by Murree accord. In a private TV channel, he expressed his views about judiciary crisis as an ordinary issue rather other issues of electricity and flour shortage be given priority. Also he openly talked against deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
In fact Zardari proved himself as non-committal on reinstating sacked judges. Just few days before deadline of 30-days he left to Dubai, PML (N) leaders followed him like chasing a person who took loan and run away. In Dubai, both party members had long discussions and 30-day deadline passed. It became clear Zardari is never interested to reinstate all deposed judges because his corruption cases might be reopened, therefore he conditioned it with a new legislation to allow all existing judges (pro-Zardari) and deposed judges as well, this will dilute the effect of deposed judges and also to shorten the employment tenure of Chief Justice to 3 years so that deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar could not continue after restoration. Nawaz had to travel to Dubai and had other long sessions to come to some final decision.
Following two days of talks with Zardari in Dubai, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif had announced in Lahore that the deposed judges will be restored through a parliamentary resolution on May 12.
Asif Ali Zardari has not committed himself to the May 12 deadline set by his coalition partner Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for reinstating judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf, sparking speculation that their differences on the issue are yet to be resolved.
However, Zardari told a private TV channel that a committee of legal experts set up to finalize the resolution for the judges would decide the matter 'as soon as possible'.
Evading a direct reply to a question whether the judges will be restored on the date set by Sharif, he said: 'Ask the question about reinstatement of the judges on May 12 with the committee. It will try and resolve it as soon as possible.'
The PPP co-chairman's comments were in line with a statement by Law Minister Farooq Naek, who said that there was no cause for worry if the May 12 deadline passed because of lack of consensus among all the stakeholders.
Naek told reporters that the deposed judges may not necessarily be restored by May 12. The committee of legal experts, of which Naek is the convenor, will decide whether an executive order or a new legislation will follow the parliamentary resolution to reinstate the judges, he said.
But Naek also said that the committee might not reach a consensus by May 12 and would forward the matter to Zardari and Sharif.
No doubt the restoration of deposed judges is not the Zardari agenda at all. The body-language and tone of Zardari is a crystal clear message he wants to get rid of PML (N) by any way and willing to have long term working relations with Musharraf. He is misusing the word "reconciliation" to mask his original intentions. Even discussion is underway to have "reconciliation" with former pro-Musharraf governing party if present leaders are changed. He has already conveyed his partial plan to so-called religious leader Fazalur Rehman, who agreed for any support from his side. Further his plan is to destabilize Punjab province government where PML (N) has the majority and has made government.
Basically Zardari is not a politician rather a businessman and has been playing the same way. He has a team of 3-ministers (Interior, Information, and Law) who play crucial role in implementing all his decisions and strategies to achieve his goals. Even sincere PPP workers are upset with his non-political and non-factual attitude. He has become an untrustable person. This way he is dumping PPP political career into a deep mud.
Soon the public will change the directions of their guns toward Zardari instead of Musharraf because people had voted to change the system and end crisis but PPP has just replaced the PML-Q.
In fact he is playing a game at the cost of stability of the country and kept his individual benefits superior to collective and national interest. He will commit a political crime if he does not restore deposed judges and lose Nawaz support.
On the other hand if Nawaz Sharif is a wise and mature politician and man of principle, he should immediately withdraw his support in national assembly and accept to sit on opposition benches. Otherwise public opinion will not spare PML (N) too as a coalition partner.
Dr. Khalid Iqbal Tahir is with Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Dubai Hospital, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.