If you are a political leader in Pakistan your past will continue to haunt your future. This is possibly the lesson that the President Mr Asif Ali Zardari will be mulling over as he plans a strategy for survival in the minefield of Pak politics in the days ahead. The trigger for President Zardari’s undoing this time has been an ill timed visit to his chateau in France even as the country was reeling under the worst floods in its history with millions homeless and destitute.
The inability of the civil bureaucracy to deliver added to the misery with the Army and the fundamentalist charities masquerading as do-gooders making up the deficit. This provided enough ammunition to Zardari’s and in turn the party he leads, Pakistan People’s Party’s many detractors to commence a campaign to dethrone him. The lead was provided by Mr Altaf Hussain, leader of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement and an eternal survivor who called for intervention by the Army in a language garbled to create enough dissonance in the political space. Mr Nawaz Sharif, an aspirant for the post of the Prime Minister a third time facilitated by the 18th Amendment approved by Mr Zardari is waiting in the wings for the government to collapse through its own omissions, while another old hand the wily former chief and president for long, Pervez Musharraf is seeing an opportunity and is planning to launch a new party on 1 October.
The ever alert judiciary led by an activist Chief Justice Mr Chaudhury has thus commenced what Mr Zardari follower’s call a witch hunt against their leader. Amongst the many accusations of past corruption none of which have been proved in a formal court of law in the country, President Mr Zardari was granted amnesty by former President Musharraf under the National Reconciliation Ordnance which however has been struck down by the Supreme Court. This has led to Mr Zardari having to cling to the office of the President claiming immunity.
When asked to submit action plan for reopening the case of Swiss accounts of the President by the Supreme Court the government has indicated that this would be harmful to the sovereignty and integrity of the country. The Supreme Court is certainly not convinced. But this has only added another dimension to the ongoing battle for political supremacy post the floods and it should also be noticed that these issues have come up when the PPP and Mr Zardari are weak.
By adopting an aggressive approach and rallying support in the Party as well as the National Assembly and the Senate the survival of Mr Zardari in power is being bolstered by none other than the Prime Minister Mr Gillani. Whether this approach pays dividends against an activist Chief Justice who is also accused by some of a political agenda remains to be seen. But Mr Zardari is an eternal survivor and his coterie is attempting to match his opponents every move.
A key player, the Army is seemingly neutral. An extension to General Kayani and substantial increase in the defence budget seems to be the sops for the Generals who are restive and have made no bones of their intentions making best use of the floods for political advantage with relief trucks carrying banners with names of corps commanders. This has undermined the work done by Pakistani soldiers who have toiled day and night to provide succor to the people as their leadership built its political capital.
The curious case of the additional allotment for defence is also likely to raise some concerns across the board. For a country which is to receive almost $ 2 billion as loans, grants and aid from the global community to overcome the tragedy of the floods it would be most improper to spend a large sum equivalent to almost $ 1 billion additional on defence. However it remains to be seen if such a debate will be raised and if so then how much resistance is there from the public as well as the media. The parliamentarians have expressed concerns about expenditure in the past by the intelligence agency the, ISI which has not been fully accounted for but there are unlikely to be any questions on the defence budget except that the increase in the allotments in a time of dire financial stringency in the wake of multiple tragedies would need additional justification.
In this time of crisis when the Pakistani people need political consensus the most they are facing prospects of the political elite engaged in a battle to adorn what many feel is certainly a crown of thorns, no doubt the astute Army Chief General Kayani is keeping out at least for the time being knowing fully well that he is the final arbitrator. Perhaps Mr Zardari’s chateau in France may prove to be ominous as a luxurious retreat after the Presidential palace in Islamabad.