Asif Ali Zardari: the godfather as president By Tariq Ali Sunday September 07 2008
Asif Ali Zardari – singled out by fate to become Benazir Bhutto’s husband and who, subsequently, did everything he could to prevent himself from being returned to obscurity – is about to become the new President of Pakistan.
Oily-mouthed hangers-on, never in short supply in Pakistan, will orchestrate a few celebratory shows and the ready tongues of old cronies (some now appointed ambassadors to western capitals) will speak of how democracy has been enhanced. Zardari’s close circle of friends, with whom he shared the spoils of power the last time around and who have remained loyal, refusing all inducements to turn state’s evidence in the corrruption cases against him, will also be delighted. Small wonder then that definitions of democracy in Pakistan differ from person to person.
There will be no expressions of joy on the streets to mark the transference of power from a moth-eaten general to a worm-eaten politician. The affection felt in some quarters for the Bhutto family is non-transferable. If Benazir were still alive, Zardari would not have been given any official post. She had been considering two other senior politicians for the presidency. Had she been more democratically inclined she would never have treated her political party so scornfully, reducing it to the status of a family heirloom, bequeathed to her son, with her husband as the regent till the boy came of age.
This, and this alone, has aided Zardari’s rise to the top. He was disliked by many of his wife’s closest supporters in the People’s Party (or the Bhutto Family Party, as it is referred to by disaffected members) even when she was alive. They blamed his greed and godfatherish behaviour to explain her fall from power on two previous occasions, which I always thought was slightly unfair. She knew. It was a joint enterprise. She was never one to regard politics alone as the consuming passion of her life and always envied the lifestyle and social behaviour of the very rich. And he was shameless in his endeavours to achieve that status.
Today, he is the second richest person in the country, with estates and bank accounts littered on many continents, including a mansion in Surrey worth several million. Many of Benazir’s inner circle, sidelined by the new boss (Zardari did rub their noses in [...] by having his apolitical sister elected from Larkana, hitherto a pocket borough of the Bhutto family) actively hate him. Benazir’s uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto (head of the clan) has sharply denounced him. Some even encourage the grotesque view that he was in some way responsible for her death. This is foolish. He is only trying to fulfill her legacy. He was certainly charged with ordering the murder of his brother-in-law, Murtaza Bhutto, when Benazir was prime minister, but the case was never tried. Characteristically, one of Zardari’s first acts after his party’s victory in the February polls was to appoint Shoaib Suddle, the senior police officer connected to the Murtaza Bhutto ambush and killing, as the boss of the Federal Intelligence Agency. Loyalty is always repaid in full.
In the country at large, his standing, always low, has sunk still further.
The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million citizens may be poor, illiterate or semi-literate, but their instincts are usually sound. An opinion poll carried out by the New America Foundation some months ago revealed Zardari’s approval ratings at a low ebb – less than 14%. These figures confirm the view that he is the worst possible slice of Pakistan’s crumbly nationhood.
The people has had no say in his election. parliamentary cabals have already determined the result. [more]