Saturday, September 6, 2008

Asif Zardari: President?

I went to school with Mr. Asif Zardari, at Cadet College Petaro, and last saw him briefly in Abu Dhabi when he made his first trip there as the spouse of the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The brief visit was at the Intercontinental Hotel in suite and it was awkward since he had just assumed an importance that he bubbled with and I was looking at someone who we never did take very seriously as classmates. That he had political ambitions was obvious as he dabbled in college politics even briefly being part of a take over of the college in 1971 when General Yahya's government collapsed and some cadets thought a military college deserved some egalitarian politics. I recall walking in to the office if the Principal and demanding the ring leader and his friends hand back the college, amongst the ringleaders was Asif too, but once the leader had been subdued Asif understood it was not to be.

We remained friends and I would say one thing over the years I admired that he looked after his friends, especially those who were 'loyal' to him, and this was in keeping with the politics of Pakistan. His wife, the charming Benazir remained more in contact as I had been in UAE and so was she in and out of the place. We met a few times, talked politics even exchanged a few opinions about her trials and tribulations. I always thought of her as very intelligent and charming and indeed engaging, however to this day I have wondered if she sincerely did improve the lot of the people of Pakistan or whether she tried but was working in a system where things are hard to change. Yet her myopia was interesting when she visited me the last time at my home in Abu Dhabi, this was years back, we did argue when she refused to admit that her ministers or party members have been corrupt. It was perhaps a sore point with her, but I would concede on balance she seemed to have had a better hope for Pakistan then others at that point in time.

Her death was indeed a loss and I did, or tried to do my duty of phoning in a condolence two weeks after the funeral. I never got to speak to Asif, and one of our common friends actually had the cheek to suggest that now 'Asif's political career is rising I am not surprised you are remembering him'. But then that is how Pakistan has become one contacts politicians because one wants something. For me the welfare of the country is all I want. Which brings one to the what Mr. Zaradari will do as President.

While I do not know him given he decades since we studied together, I am constrained to see his profile from the media. My guess he will get carried away, forgetting the role of the President and in a sense he may at some stage forget the Army does have a say in matters. He will wheel and deal his way through alot, and in many cases get away with it, but the biggest legacy he will have to face will that of whether he can rise about the corruption, or the temptation of it, whether he can be bipartisan, whether he can do what is good for Pakistan rather than what is good for him, or only his political party or indeed external powers.

I want Asif to succeed, not for his own good, but for the good of the country, and if in that process he gets a measure of success rubbed off on him great for him. However, the reality is that he seems to have wheeled himself into a position where the political process has little faith him, he has broken his word a few times already and most of all will he now restore the judges? In effect this is not a test of Asif Zardari, its a test for the system.

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