Pakistan’s five power centres and a lame duck President
Asif Ali Zardari is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has annulled the National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated by Gen Pervez Musharraf to give the beleaguered PPP leader and a couple of hundred other politicians immunity from corruption charges. He is for all practical purposes a President shorn of moral authority to hold the high Constitutional office.
Zardari indeed has the fig leaf of a Constitutional buffer against prosecution so long as he’s President. But his presence in the presidential palace — the occupation of which he should have avoided in the first place— erodes it of legitimacy.
That apart, it’s deeply embarrassing for Pakistan to have a tainted President at a time its stock internationally is at its worst ever.
Zardari is adamant, however, to hold on to the Chair till his last breath.
The much maligned spouse of Benazir Bhutto is oblivious of or disrespectful towards a cardinal political principle: a ruler shouldn’t just be fair but also come across as being fair in popular perception.
The way it’s practiced in Pakistan, democracy is all about setting up fiefdoms of courtiers, sycophants and unscrupulous fixers. Elected representatives are —by their very conduct— incapable of occupying any moral high ground vis-à-vis the Army. That gives the gum-boots enough excuse to usurp power in the garb of national interest shown to be endangered by corrupt regimes— starting from the one led by the country’s most popular elected leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1971.
Zardari’s irony is that he’s perceived a gatecrasher in the presidency by most of his party peers and colleagues— driven as they are by the Bhutto legacy they find appropriated as dowry by an awkward looking son-in-law.
There are countless theories in Pakistan now about his fate and that of the PPP and the government the party leads at the Centre.
The question isn’t actually of Zardari’s survival. It’s about the survival of democracy— currently under attack from Islamic fundamentalists and forever under threat from an extra-constitutional admixture of the army, the intelligence fraternity and powerful civilians embedded with the ubiquitous establishment.
The judiciary’s rise and the independence it has demonstrated in recent judgments— including the one that seeks to put a stop to future army takeovers — is a happy augury. But its tendency to encroach on the domain of parliament and the executive, given the latter’s tattered image, needs recalibration. One also has to see how good it comes dealing with cases relating to terrorists and organizations promoting terrorism?
So acute is the fragmentation of authority in Pakistan that it has today five distinct centers of power: The President, the PM, the Army, the Judiciary and the Nawaz Sharif-led Opposition PML-N that’s shinning in contrast with the besmirched ruling coalition. Add to that the religious right mixed up with terrorist outfits and it will make one-half of a dozen.
The first five talk of national interest but are often unable to look beyond their nose. The army’s always at work to make elected representatives fight; Sharif has opened lines with the GHQ while driving a wedge between Zardari and his PM and the President is fighting its own battle with little or no respect for political propriety or the future of his party. For its part, the Judiciary is on a high from which it can only plummet.
About time Zardari realized that as President he’s expected to be the custodian of the Pakistani Constitution, not its convict. People respect those who renounce power— not those who cling to it.