Today, I ran across an interesting article in the Financial Times. Entitled, “Doubts Cast on Zardari’s Mental Health,” the FT’s Michael Peel and Farhan Bokhari reported, “Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.” The co-Chairman of the PPP was reportedly diagnosed “with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.” Zardari, noted the FT writers, spent 11 of the last 20 years in Pakistani prisons, where he claimed he was tortured. The FT cited a NY-based psychiatrist, Phillip Satiel, who said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. [Image from the AP]
Despite this diagnosis last year, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London and a longstanding ally of the Bhutto family, told the FT yesterday that Zardari’s subsequent medical examinations and his doctors “declared him medically fit to run for political office and free of any symptoms.” He added,
You have got to understand that while he was in prison on charges that were never proven, there were attempts to kill him…At that time, he was surrounded by fear all the time. Any human being living in such a condition will of course suffer from the effects of continuous fear. But that is all history.
However, despite Hasan’s assertions, such reports of mental illness were publicized at a significant time – less than a week from today, Zardari is slated to run for the country’s presidential elections, a development that has sparked questions and skepticism among many Pakistanis, [so far, 78% of those who voted in yesterday’s CHUP poll deemed “President Zardari” the worst decision for Pakistan]. In an op-ed in today’s Dawn, Kamran Shafi asserted,
Bad idea, Asif Zardari putting himself up for election as president, and worse, to do it without consulting the PML-N…Yes, sirs, a very bad idea indeed as Asif will find to his own and the party’s cost sooner rather than later with Nawaz Sharif stalking out of the coalition. It will be interesting to see how the PPP runs the country without the help of the next largest political party.
According to The News on Tuesday, Zardari, “who till Sunday was quite comfortable in the presidential race, has now certain hurdles to cross to clinch the top slot.” Following yesterday’s decision to exit the coalition, the PML-N announced its own presidential candidate will be former chief justice of Pakistan, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, and media outlets have indicated the party is attempting to “woo” the PML-Q over to their camp.
Officially, the United States has been neutral in the contest over who succeeds Pervez Musharraf. However, a piece in today’s NY Times reported that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations [and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq], is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Zardari. The Times noted, “Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari…several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts.” U.S. officials, including Asst. Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, reacted with outrage to such news, fearing such reports “could leave the impression that the United States is taking sides in Pakistan’s already chaotic internal politics.” [Image from the NY Times]
Ultimately, today’s developments – from reports of Zardari’s mental state to the PML-N’s presidential candidate – may show that the PPP co-Chairman’s ascendancy to the presidency will not be without its obstacles. As political infighting continues, other issues facing the country are ever-increasing. Media outlets reported the stock market reacted negatively to the recent political developments – slumping four percent on Tuesday, and severe load shedding in Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar has drastically affected daily life and business activities.