On Tuesday, a Pakistani prosecutor for the state anti-graft agency, the National Accountability Bureau [for more background on the agency, read this past CHUP piece] announced he wanted corruption charges against PML-N head Nawaz Sharif taken up by the courts. However, reported Reuters, “Sharif says the corruption charges, filed against him after he was overthrown in 1999, were politically motivated.” The prosecutor, Zulfiqar Bhutta denied these charges, instead telling the news agency that he wanted the court to proceed according to the law, adding, “We have asked the court to review its decision … and fix a date for the hearing.”
Bhutta told the BBC Tuesday, “We expect the special judge Central Rawalpindi Courts to hear the case on 4 September,” two days before the slated Sept. 6th presidency election. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said he hoped the PPP was not resorting to “blackmail,” telling Dawn Television, “The political process must show maturity and, particularly, the government must realize that these are tried, tested and failed tactics of the past.” Not surprisingly, Information Minister Sherry Rehman responded to such statements by asserting the charges against Sharif were not politically motivated because the PPP does “not pursue the politics of revenge.”
With the presidency elections fast-approaching, relations between former coalition partners, the PPP and PML-N, are becoming increasingly strained. Although PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is predicted to easily win Saturday’s presidency race, recent political developments have shown that his road to this slot will not be without its hurdles, [also see “Zardari’s Bumpy Road to the Presidency”]. In its coverage yesterday, Reuters reported the election will ultimately be a “three-way tussle” among the country’s main political parties. The news agency added, “Zardari’s main rival for president looks likely to be Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice nominated by the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.” The third candidate, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former government minister, is a top official from the “pro-Musharraf” party, the PML-Q. [Image from Reuters]
Although a “President Zardari” may be in the cards, this has not stopped numerous analysts and journalists from criticizing that outcome. In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens wrote, “Just how bad is Mr. Zardari? It would be a relief if it were true that he was merely suffering from dementia, a diagnosis offered by two New York psychiatrists last year. But that diagnosis seems to have been produced mainly with a view toward defending himself against corruption charges in a British court.” He added, “Al Qaeda and the Taliban feed on chaos, and a Zardari presidency will almost certainly provide more of it. For Pakistanis, this is a self-inflicted wound and a rebuke to their democracy. For the rest of world, it’s a matter of hoping that Pakistan will somehow muddle through. For now, however, this looks like a Category 5 hurricane, dark and vast and visible just offshore.”
In his Sunday piece for Dawn, columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee called a Zardari presidency, “a bloody mess,” citing a past editorial in the UK Independent that assessed, “Even by the notoriously low standards of South Asian politics, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP, is a compromised figure, dogged by corruption charges. So it is hard to be enthused by the PPP’s decision to nominate its leader as the country’s next president.” Cowasjee further asserted,
Zardari and his sycophantic supine political party must ask themselves if he truly qualifies to be a head of state. He has five days in which to prove himself a patriot and a democrat. Democracy, no matter what the party slogan may proclaim, is not a form of revenge and for him to carry through his ambition (which he has nursed ever since he made up his mind to rid himself of Musharraf) would be an act of vengeance upon his country and its people.
Not all journalists subscribe to that same belief, however. On Tuesday, Dawn’s Kamran Shafi [who previously called Zardari’s decision to run for presidency a “bad idea”], took issue with Cowasjee’s piece, defending Zardari’s “right” to stand in the presidential poll. However, he wrote:
My advice to Asif even at this late hour is to, even now, restore the judges according to the Bhurban Declaration, remove Article 58-2(b); stand back from this election and put his weight behind an apolitical person acceptable to the PML-N. There are ways and ways to have the election postponed by a month. And therefore woo back his ‘elder’ brother to keep the Great Coalition alive. The PPP and the PML-N, hand in hand, can jointly do what no other combination can. Then just watch the dictatorship die its well-deserved and instant death.
Among the number of pieces I have read in the past week, very few have been purely optimistic in their assessment of a ‘President Zardari.’ Readers of this site also voted overwhelmingly against such a development, [see previous CHUP poll]. Of the 100 people who voted in the poll, 80% felt that if Zardari was elected it would be “the worst decision for Pakistan.” Only 6% felt he deserved the position. The political power struggle that is certain to ensue between the PPP and the PML-N if a solution is not reached is troubling, to say the least.