Cunning, devious, erratic.
2.These are the allegations increasingly being used about President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan inside the coalition formed by BenazirBhutto before her assassination in order to fight for the restoration of democracy as well as inside his own Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
3. Well-informed sources in the PPP say that ever since he took over as the President in September last year, he has sought to marginalisethe loyalists of Benazir Bhutto and have them replaced by loyalists of the Zardari family. The Bhutto loyalists have been shocked by thedisinterest allegedly shown by him in pursuing vigorously the investigation into the assassination of his wife. Instead of doing so, he hasallegedly asked Rehman Malik, the Internal Security Adviser, to suspend any further investigation on the ground that the UNSecretary-General has already initiated action for the case to be investigated by a team appointed by him. It is alleged that anyone, whoraises the question of the lack of progress in the investigation, incurs Zardari's wrath and is subjected to harassment by the police. A typicalexample is that of Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, of the Sindh National Front (SNF), who is a cousin of the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and a founding-fatherof the PPP. The police have allegedly been set after him and other members of the SNF after they raised the issue of the investigation inpublic.
4. These PPP sources claim that Bhutto loyalists have started raising doubts about the genuineness of the so-called political will of BenazirBhutto on the basis of which Zardari took over the interim leadership of the PPP till their son Bilawal, designated in the so-called will as herultimate successor, came of age to be able to take over the leadership. There has been no demand so far for an enquiry into thegenuineness of the will, but there are increasing insinuations that the so-called will was the idea of Rehman Malik. Malik used to be incharge of co-ordinating physical security arrangements for Benazir Bhutto and many in the party accuse him of negligence which, accordingto them, contributed to her assassination. To the surprise of many, who were close to Benazir, not only no action was taken against him byZardari, but he was appointed as the Internal Security Adviser with the rank of a Cabinet Minister and has emerged as a close personaladviser of Zardari. It is alleged in party circles that Malik, himself a retired police officer, has been misusing the police officers of theFederal Investigation Agency (FIA) in which he had served during Benazir Bhutto's second tenure (1993-96) as the Prime Minister formonitoring the activities of the critics of Zardari.
5. Speculation about differences between Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani continue to gain currency despite repeated denialsby both. These PPP sources say that Gilani is unhappy that important decisions are being taken by Zardari and his close group of adviserswithout consulting him or keeping him in the picture and instructions issued directly over his head to senior bureaucrats to have thedecisions executed. Gilani was also excluded from the committee set up by Zardari for selecting Party candidates for the elections to fillup vacancies in the Senate, the upprer House of the Parliament.It is said that Gilani was taken by surprise by the press conference held byRehman Malik at which he admitted that there was partial involvement by certain elements in Pakistan in the conspiracy for the Mumbaiterrorist attack. Only a day before Malik's press conference, the Cabinet Committee on Defence had discussed the Indian allegations and itwas reportedly decided that a set of questions should be sent to India and that Pakistan should await India's replies before deciding on thenext step.
6. It is alleged that Zardari, who was under tremendous pressure from the US to co-operate with India, advised Malik to admit partialinvolvement without awaiting India's replies to the questions. The PPP sources claim that even Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of theArmy Staff (COAS), who was present at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee, was surprised by Malik's press conference.
7. During Benazir Bhutto's second tenure as the Prime Minister, many PPP workers known for their loyalty to Zardari had been recruited intoGovernment Departments, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the FIA. After dismissing her in 1996, Farooq Leghari, the thenPresident, had sacked all these people who had been recruited without following the civil service recruitment rules. It is said that Zardarihas been keen to have these people re-taken into the jobs from which they were sacked by Leghari, but Gilani has been strongly resistingthis.
8. Senior officials of the Foreign Office are mystified by Zardari's decision to visit Wuhan and Shanghai in China from February 20 to 24,2009, without an official invitation from the Chinese Government. He did not visit Beijing. Nor did he meet any Chinese leaders. He onlyspoke to President Hu Jintao over phone from Shanghai before returning to Islamabad. The Chinese had reportedly told Zardari that sincethey would be busy in connection with the first visit of Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to China after assuming office, theywould not be in a position to receive him in Beijing during February. In spite of this, he decided to go ahead with his visit and restrict his visitto Wuhan and Shanghai only. His advisers projected his decision as part of the plan announced by him after taking over as the President tovisit different provinces of China once a quarter to learn from China's experience in economic development. Foreign Office officials havebeen saying that it is not in keeping with the dignity of the office of the President of Pakistan to keep travelling to other countries----even ifit be to China---- without a formal invitation and without taking into account the convenience of the hosts.They project this as an indicator ofwhat they allege as the erratic and flippant streak in him.
9. Zardari has also come in for strong criticism inside his own party as well as inside the ruling coalition for what they see as the lack oftransparency in matters relating to co-operation with the US in its fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Reports carried by sections of theUS media alleging that the increasing Predator air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs in Pakistani territory are beingcarried out with the knowledge and tacit consent of Zardari have added to the suspicions that he has a huge debt to pay to the US for itsrole in persuading Gen. Pervez Musharraf, when he was the President, to issue the National Reconciliation Ordinance to withdraw thepending cases against him and Benazir to enable them to return to Pakistan from political exile and contest the elections.
10. His decision not to take any action against Musharraf for his repeated violations of the Constitution when he was in power and not toreinstate former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, who was sacked by Musharraf, are also seen by many of his critics asmotivated partly by his own interests and partly by US desires. It is alleged that Zardari is worried that if he reinstated the former ChiefJustice, the latter might question the validity of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and order a retrial of the case relating to the allegedmurder of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir, at Karachi in September 1996. Zardari was an accused in the case, which hassince been closed. The US also feels uncomfortable with the former Chief Justice because of the interest taken by him in looking into thecases of a large number of Pakistanis, who were picked up by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and handed over to the US intelligencewithout following the due process of the law because the US suspected that they were involved with Al Qaeda. Many of them are reported tobe in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
11. Nawaz Sharif is bitter with Zardari for the way he has gone back on every commitment made by him before the elections to the NationalAssembly in February last year. He first went back on the commitment made regarding the reinstatement of the former Chief Justice. He then took Nawaz Sharif by surprise by manipulating to have himself nominated and elected as the President and then went back on thecommitment to do away with the various constitutional amendments introduced through decree by Musharraf to restore to the Presidentthe powers to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly. He also went back on the commitment to review the variousaspects of co-operation with the US in its so-called war against terrorism in order to remove those aspects which were not in Pakistan'snational interests.
12. When Nawaz Sharif announced his support for a fresh agitation by the lawyers to demand the reinstatement of sacked Chief JusticeIftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, Zardari allegedly sent Rehman Malik to meet him and his brother Shabaz Sharif, till recently the ChiefMinister of Punjab, to warn them that if Nawaz Sharif supported the fresh agitation by the lawyers, he (Zardari) would not oppose any rulingby a bench of the Supreme Court to disqualify Nawaz and his brother from contesting any election and holding any public office.
13. Whereas Zardari and Benazir were the accused in many criminal cases which had not ended in any conviction, Nawaz Sharif had beenconvicted on a charge of attempted hijacking of the aircraft in which Musharraf was travelling from Colombo to Karachi in October 1999,which provoked the coup against Nawaz. His brother was the accused in two criminal cases, but not a convict. While the US-supportedNational Reconciliation Ordinance led to the withdrawal of the cases against Benazir and Zardari, it did not affect the conviction of Nawazand the cases against his brother.
14. Despite this, the Election Commission allowed Shabaz Sharif to contest the election. He became the Chief Minister of Punjab with thesupport of the PPP. Nawaz was not able to contest the election because of his conviction. He was hopeful that if Iftikhar MohammadChaudhury was reinstated as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he would have his conviction reviewed and set aside. Zardari hadreportedly promised Nawaz that the Government would take the initiative to have his conviction set aside, but he went back on the promise.Nawaz and his brother refused to appear before a bench consisting of Judges appointed by Musharraf to argue their case. The result: thebench's ruling on February 25,2009, declaring them as ineligible to contest elections and to hold any public office.Shabaz Sharif hasresigned as the Chief Minister and Governor's rule has been proclaimed in the province for two months. The PPP hopes to form the provincialGovernment with the help of Musharraf loyalists in the PML ( Qaide Azam) and possible defectors from the PML of Nawaz.
15. Though Zardari's advisers have been strongly denying that he had anything to do with the ruling, Nawaz and Shabaz are convinced thatthe ruling was induced by Zardari. There has already been public agitation on this issue. Presuming that Zardari had a role in inducing thisruling by the bench of the Supreme Court, this could prove to be as unwise and as damaging as the decision of Musharraf in 2007 to haveIftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury sacked. Zardari is not Benazir. He is seen by many in his own party as a political upstart. His confrontationwith Nawaz could set in motion a chain of events which may ultimately discredit once again the political class in Pakistan and prepare theground for another spell of military rule.
16.The US has reasons to be concerned over the developments in Pakistan. There is a trust deficit between it and Nawaz. It continues toback Zardari who has shown himself to be as amenable to US wishes as Musharraf, if not even more. It continues to encourage Gen.Kayanito back Zardari. But Zardari's mishandling of the political situation could come in the way of the US operations against Al Qaeda and theTaliban at a time when the Obama Administration is re-tooling its Afghan strategy. (28-2-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institue For Topical Studies,Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )