President Zardari

Posted: September 7, 2008 in Political
Tags: , , , ,

Asif Ali Zardari is the president of Pakistan. After his huge win on Saturday, he will be walking into the presidency with a huge burden of history on his shoulders. The massive margin of his victory is such that the election may seem to have been almost a formality – however, his job will be anything but that. From the jail cell in which he spent 11 years of his life – despite having been convicted of no crime – he has taken a place within the most elevated building in Islamabad. For him, in both personal and political terms, it has been a momentous journey. It has also been – thankfully, given our unfortunate experiments with military interventions — a democratic one. Unlike the last presidential election we saw just eleven months ago, when former president Pervez Musharraf won a controversial poll boycotted by almost every group aside from the ruling PML-Q, this time participation has been full, the process fair, albeit with a result that was predictable. In terms of federal integrity, the support Mr Zardari received from the assemblies of the three smaller provinces is significant.

But, there is no time to look back. The challenges ahead are enormous. The issues the president, as the most powerful man in Pakistan, will need to address are towering. For a starter he needs a quick and complete makeover of his image from a wily politician, winding his way up, not mindful of whether he was breaking his promises or losing his credibility, to an international statesman who carries weight and is taken seriously. To do that he must quickly fulfil all the promises that he broke in the past, now that he has come out of the wall of political and physical insecurity that may have bothered him in the past. He must do away with the 17th amendment, ending the tussle for power between president and parliament, a power which repeatedly rocked the system and plunged it from one catastrophe to the next. The president will also be moving into the presidency at a time when multiple crises face us on other fronts too. From across the western frontier, US forces threaten to continue their assaults. The sovereignty of the country is at risk. Within its territory the economic situation seems to be worsening by the day. While the rupee has been able to slow its slide against the dollar, on a day-to-day basis, hyper-inflation affects every citizen. Forecasts of food riots have been made, fuel costs may rise further and a new increase in power rates looms.

There is also the lingering issue of the judiciary, as lawyers continue their protests. The bitterness created by it will linger. Political animosity between rival parties grows by the day and threatens to add to existing difficulties and problems. An unacknowledged civil war of low intensity is being fought in Balochistan, across Punjab masses of unemployed young men seek occupation and the threat of terrorism lurks everywhere. Finding means to solve these problems is obviously no easy task. Mr Zardari can hope to achieve it only by uniting people and patching over the political, ethnic and sectarian strains that threaten to tear Pakistan apart. For this, he must build a relationship of accommodation with other political parties; he must weave together a consensus on how to tackle militancy and he must infuse within his own party the spirit and will it needs to roll back the despair that engulfs people. The feeling that a kind of paralysis exists must be ended. Ending the feeling of political uncertainty and doubts about his ability to achieve these goals, the new president must rise to the occasion, show magnanimity, unite the nation, provide them trusted and dignified leadership and take the political process further. Asif Ali Zardari’s ability to achieve this will determine how he fares over the years ahead and how a man, who in a break from the country’s patriarchal tradition draws power from a woman, is eventually treated by history.

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