Zardari seems to have outwitted America
Asif Haroon Raja
Till 9/11 Gen Musharraf was in bad books of USA and was sneered at. Once he agreed to fulfill American agenda in the region, he became the blue-eyed boy and remained so as long as he obeyed its commands. Once he became politically weak after March 2007 and started expressing his inability to cede ground on certain core issues, it irritated Washington. He took the plea that the political setup was too weak to change the perceptions of the people from pro to anti-Taliban and to make them accept Pakistan as a secular state. He also expressed his helplessness to allow free use of drones and to allow NATO troops to step into FATA for joint operations against the militants. He remained non-committal when asked to open the nuclear program for inspection by IAEA and US team and to allow Pak-US joint teams to protect the nukes. Inclusion of a US representative in Nuclear Command Authority setup was also evaded.
Musharraf-Benazir secret deal in Dubai in July 2007 was arranged by USA and UK so as to pave the way for a dream team comprising all secular parties. While Benazir was to take control of the political front, Musharraf was to keep the Generals in his firm grip. However, later events didn’t proceed as planned by Boucher-Negroponte combine since lawyer’s movement together with reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar in July 2007 and unwelcome entry of Sharif brothers in the political arena spoiled the game plan. Benazir’s sudden change of track and that too very close to general elections panicked the schemers. Unexpected clash between Benazir and Musharraf and backfiring of emergency on November 3 forced Musharraf to shed his second skin in November 2007 and hand over the command to Gen Ashfaq Kayani. These developments were certainly not to the liking of the manipulators. By then the US had assessed that Musharraf was fast losing control; this assessment had been conveyed by Mossad chief way back in August 2007.
Plan Bravo was hurriedly put into operation in which Zardari was to replace Benazir. Blame of murder of Benazir on 27 December 2007 was put on Baitullah led Taliban. Since the Army detached itself from politics and election rigmarole, elections could not be rigged as freely as had been planned. Resultantly, 2002 elections ensured victory of secular parties but PML-N’s wholesome success in Punjab and capturing second largest number of seats in the centre consternated the plot makers. Nawaz had fallen in bad books of Washington because of his refusal to listen to Bill Clinton to restrain from responding to India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. He is otherwise viewed by the West as a conservative leader having a soft corner for the religious extremists. He didn’t fit into America’s scheme of war on terror and of denuclearization.
It was under such fluid political conditions that it was decided to relieve Musharraf in August 2008 and make Zardari all-powerful civilian president and the legislature to be made subservient to him. Since Musharraf had served Bush well and the two had developed intimate relations, it was decided to let him proceed abroad and to create a new political party so that he could be retried as a civilian president sometime later. It was because of PML-N and judiciary’s assertive role and above all the Army under Gen Kayani that future events didn’t proceed as planned.
The devious plan to place the ISI under the control of Interior Ministry run by controversial Rahman Malik in August 2008 and to make the Army impotent through Kerry Lugar Bill were foiled by Kayani. The plan to sack chief justice was also frustrated by Nawaz led cavalcade and dexterous handling by Kayani in March 2009. Attempts to trap the Army in Swat and then in South Waziristan in May and October 2009 respectively not only failed but those operations helped in raising the image of the Army sky high.
I have been writing negatively about President Zardari but of late I have begun to have second thoughts. In hindsight one will have to admit that Zardari played his cards shrewdly. It must not be forgotten that by the time he came on the centre stage in Pakistan’s political landscape, his predecessor Gen Musharraf had spoilt the habits of US leaders and officials to such an extent that they had started to micro-manage Pakistan’s foreign policy and domestic affairs. Joe Biden, Condoleezza Rice-Richard Boucher-Negroponte combine had become too overbearing and intrusive and none in Pakistan could defy them. The King’s Party was a collection of puppeteers who danced to the tunes of Musharraf and US leaders. Musharraf-Benazir secret deal in Dubai in July 2007 was arranged by USA and UK. Issuance of infamous NRO on 5 October and declaration of emergency on 3 November was done by Musharraf with the blessings of USA.
When the sacking of 60 superior court judges and mini-martial law failed to break the lawyer cum civil society movement, and demand for Musharraf’s impeachment became louder, Bush intervened. Zardari gave an assurance that if he was made president, Musharraf would be granted amnesty and honorable exit to London. By that time global recession had set in and oil prices surged up; militant threat became menacing and Army’s image had declined.
Knowing that the coveted seat of President could not be acquired without US consent, following in the footsteps of his late wife he too assured Washington of his full cooperation and loyalty. He impressed US Ambassador Anne Patterson so much that she declared him the best ally the US had in Pakistan. Inwardly, he did what was better for Pakistan. Since his tail was in the grip of Washington because of NRO factor and his tainted past, whenever he couldn’t live up America’s expectations, he bought time by taking the plea that the Army and ISI were too strong and were obstructing his way. Or that the Army had its apprehensions.
He has not compromised on any core national interest and has acquiesced to all the demands of the people, be it restoration of judges, taking back the notification on ISI, agreeing to not to dispatch DGISI to India, or the accused nominated by India in Mumbai attacks, taking a principled stand on resumption of composite dialogue, and on launching an operation in North Waziristan. He has announced a fulsome economic package for Balochistan and has agreed to meet most of its demands. He has also accepted all the demands of FATA lawmakers. These include provision of gas worth $1 billion, opening of IT University and exempting FATA from proposed sales tax. 18th amendment in the constitution has been passed with the consent of all players. Reservations on it are being accommodated and 19th Amendment is in the pipeline.
War on terror is being pursued relentlessly; the Army turned the tide in his time. Resettlement of 1.7 million displaced persons from Swat and Malakand was a colossal job which was completed in record time of three months. Pakistan went through the severest floods in its history. Despite lack of resources, the government is busy rehabilitating the affected people. Rs one lac is provided to each person who lost his house and belongings to be able to build another one. He is taking along the troublesome allies along despite strains in relations. Opposition is being handled with due restraint and there is no political prisoner nor there is any case of political victimization. The needs of armed forces are being met and unlike Nawaz, he is maintaining cordial relations with Gen Kayani and other service chiefs. If he really considered Kayani to be a threat to him, he would never have given him another three-year term. Respect between the two is two-way.
Aid is pouring in from USA and western countries. He has got closer to China and has procured profitable defence, nuclear and economic agreements. Pak-Iran gas pipeline project has been inked despite US pressure to scrap it. Gwadar Port project is proceeding in spite of America’s reservations. His decision to forge intimate relations with Sri Lanka on multi-faceted partnership in defence, counter terrorism, trade, tourism and culture is laudable. Ties with Afghanistan have improved which were strained whn Musharraf was in chair. WikiLeaks have jolted Karzai from his stupor and now he is keen to mend fences with Pakistan. Unlike Musharraf era when Kashmir freedom struggle had died down, it is active again and is being morally and politically supported. He has kept political forces as well as foreign powers appeased. That way it will not be altogether wrong to say that Zardari apparently giving goofy looks has proven too smart and has outwitted America. The US has admitted that he is a smart political manipulator.
Despite every act of his and his cronies painted in black, the PPP is still retaining its appeal among the masses. Zardari has demonstrated tremendous coolness of mind to absorb the most vicious domestic and western propaganda campaign directed against his integrity. He has not reacted to the Wikileaks news about Saudi King dubbing him as greatest obstacle to Pak progress and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi describing him as ‘dirty’. He thwarted the subtle attempt to spoil Pak-Saudi brotherly relations by saying that he considered Saudi King his elder brother.
While macro-economy is in the doldrums due to global recession, nine-year old war on terror and devastating floods, surprisingly micro-economy is vibrant. Foreign exchange reserve has jumped to over $16 billion. This is notwithstanding that there are serious shortfalls; that is, lack of governance, cronyism, high-scale corruption and increased indebt ness. Hopefully, after the WikiLeaks wakeup call and popularity graph of Zardari sliding down due to many failings, the ruling regime would overcome its shortcomings in the coming months and strive to improve its image and credibility.
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: email@example.com