Five years of Zardari

A milestone came and went past this year, bigger than most – an elected government in Pakistan completed its full term. The PPP government wasn’t thrown out by the army mid way, though it sure looks like the Army had a few half hearted attempts along the way. Even the Supreme Court got into the game of chucking the government out but only managed to get rid of the Prime Minister, who as everyone knows is just a little toady to the main man, Asif Zardari.

The puzzling thing about five years of the PPP government is how little of a main man Zardari was. That he survived five years is testament to his cunning, scheming, politicking and the many little duplicitous tricks he used to stay in power, but there is nothing else there. No signs of courage, of trying to do right by anyone not related to him, of honour, of attempts to change – nothing.

Asif lived his entire life on the coattails of his always more powerful family – first his father, than Benazir – and in Benazir’s family at least half a dozen odd brothers and uncles were always firmly far and above Zardari’s place in the Pakistani pyramid of power.

Benazir’s return and death shot Zardari to the pinnacle of Pakistani political power, but it seems that absent stronger figures in the firmament around him he was at loose odds as what to actually do with all this power he inherited.

There are many tales told of people who scrambled and fought their entire lives for power or money, yet when they finally got it were at loose ends. Zardari and the PPP lived that out in their five years in government, at the top with nowhere to go but to remain there, and remain there is what they did.

After Benazir’s death, the PPP choose Zardari and this the the single action which will haunt and hobble this party for many years to come. After two leaders who spoke endlessly about big picture ideas for changing Pakistan for the better, for the PPP to choose Zardari only because he promised them electoral victory – now that was not just a loosening of their not very high standards, it was abandoning them wholesale. Both Bhutto’s didn’t do well by Pakistan, as I’ve written on this blog before, but at least they had vision, a real backbone, ideas and pride by the bucketful. Their vision ended up mostly dreams, and their backbone was broken by the Pakistan Army and their ideas trampled in the mud by their own party, but to the end there was always something there.

With Zardari, there never has been that intangible something which makes some people leaders. Ironic, since Zardari has just led the country for five whole years, but I’d say he just crawled his way on top of the beast and hung on grimly for dear life. A bit different from leadership.

There are endless accounts of what other countries and actors did in Pakistan during Zardari’s term, but hardly any of what Zardari did. Mostly because he didn’t do much. People who know Zardari well, and various politicians and journalists and TV anchors who’ve interviewed him point out how sharp the man is in knowing everyone and everything and how Zardari can remember something a random journalist said 4 years ago, and how busy Zardari is holding together the PPP and the government – but they don’t talk about what he’s actually trying to do besides that because there isn’t anything left in the man to do anything besides staying in power.

In one of his farewell speeches to power Zardari made the point that “We”, the royal we presumably, know how much they did to stay in power for five years and keep democracy safe and alive in Pakistan. That he did do a lot to stay in power no one denies, but at the end what matters is not what you did to stay in power, rather its what you did with that power you had.

Pakistan is a hard country, and Zardari wasn’t hard enough to stay on the top of the messy, exploding heap and try to direct it at the same time. And so things went the way they’ve gone going for a long time – bomb blasts grew in size and number and the body bags kept piling up. The Army almost recovered it’s mojo from the the disaster which was General Musharraf but somehow lost it again by taking a page out of Zardari’s playbook and waffling away with their own immense power instead of taking a real stand against the many militant groups plaguing the country.

So now here we are, with every political dynasty and military power so humbled in spirit that the upcoming elections are going to be very interesting.

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