Five more years for Zardari? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 1 October 2012

Five more years for Zardari?

Asif Zardari is on course for a second tenure as President of Pakistan. Here are the political dynamics at play

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Oct 12

There is a buzz on the streets of Lahore where I spent four days last week, engaged in a Track-2 dialogue between retired military officers and civil servants from India and Pakistan. Laughing in the face of the “failing state” narrative, which is the global impression of Pakistan, Lahore looks better than I have ever seen it before. Clean, green and bustling with the Punjabi energy of old, the Lahori street sends out three unambiguous, messages: firstly, the “basket-case” story of the Pakistani economy is one-sided; since 70 per cent of the economy is in the informal sector, micro-boom co-exists with macro-bust. The second message, from millionaire and minion alike, is that India is more opportunity than enemy. Thirdly, and this is unusual given the government’s spectacular non-performance, the Pakistani people firmly believe that their army should remain in its barracks.

Global headlines tend to depict President Asif Ali Zardari as a precariously poised schemer, occupied in lining his pockets and manipulating Pakistani justice to keep his Swiss accounts undisturbed. There may be some truth in that, but the average Pakistani also acknowledges Mr Zardari as a skilled politician and a democrat who has skilfully dribbled around the Opposition, the Islamists, the military and the judiciary, even when all of them have opposed him in concert. Many Lahoris, by definition supporters of Nawaz Sharif (11 of Lahore’s 13 elected legislators are from his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), allow Mr Zardari credit for steering his political alliance doggedly towards what would be an unprecedented landmark in March 2013: an elected government completing its full five-year term.

This achievement, if it happens, will do much to nurture a democratic ethos in Pakistan. Given that Mr Zardari himself and his Pakistan Peoples Party-led government have pursued a determined course of improved relations with New Delhi, even through objections from the security establishment, India must politically scrutinise this unlikely democrat’s unexpected success.

If a single critical element has ensured Mr Zardari’s survival, it is his success in creating a stable political coalition and keeping it together through a succession of crises. Respected Pakistani political scientist Hasan-Askari Rizvi suggests that political power in that country today ebbs and flows along four major axes: the ruling alliance, the Opposition, the military and (since 2008) the judiciary. Exercising influence to a lesser degree are the religious parties and the jihadi groups.

The ruling alliance, led by Mr Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), includes Altaf Hussain’s predominantly mohajir (migrants from India) Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM); Asfandyar Wali Khan’s predominantly Pakhtun Awami National Party (ANP); and a handful of smaller parties. With a narrow majority in the 342-seat National Assembly, this coalition has miraculously held together.

The Pakistan army has challenged the government on several occasions, most recently during the “memogate” crisis last year, when Mr Zardari was accused of seeking Washington’s support against a military coup after the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Each time, however, Mr Zardari has stared down the generals. In the good old days a military coup might have followed, but today the military does not want to disturb the status quo. Firstly, the generals have little appetite for tackling Pakistan’s complex social, political and economic issues. The public, too, has lost its taste for khaki solutions; there is none of the naïve public confidence of the 1950s and 1960s that the Pakistan army would ride in on horseback and sweep away the problems. Secondly, the military needs political backing for its ongoing anti-terrorist operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the tribal agencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Through years of failed peace deals, the Pakistan army has realised that this campaign is unavoidable for Pakistan’s survival.

Only three major political parties support military operations in the tribal areas: the three big parties of the ruling coalition. Nawaz Sharif and his PML(N) have maintained a craven ambiguity on terrorism. The naïve and simplistic Imran Khan argues that the tribal agencies will return to normal once American forces depart the region. Pakistan’s military, fortunately, now knows better. The word from within is that operations will continue long after America pulls out from Afghanistan.

The Opposition is a divided house, with the jihad-ambiguous Nawaz Sharif, the jihad-friendly Imran Khan, and the jihad-supporting Islamist parties all competing for the same vote in the coming elections. In the 2008 elections, which were boycotted by Mr Khan’s and the religious parties, Mr Sharif reaped the fruits of growing Punjabi support for militant groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. This time, however, that vote would be split three ways. Mr Zardari would obviously benefit, given the PPPP’s support base all across Pakistan. Having gained control of the electoral colleges in the general elections, he would be well poised for the presidential elections next September.

His only challenger at present appears to be Mr Sharif. But the Punjab-centric PML(N) must first sweep its home province (which has 183 of the National Assembly’s 342 seats) and then garner independents to cobble together a majority. Mr Sharif will take cheer from the declining fortunes of Imran Khan, who seemed to genuinely believe that he was riding a tsunami before reality dawned. Insiders say that Mr Khan’s early success was thanks to the last chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, who boosted him to build pressure on Mr Zardari. The current ISI chief, Lt Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, a dry spymaster who focuses on intelligence rather than politics, has reportedly left Mr Khan high and dry.

Is President Zardari all but poised for another term as president? Yes, if the elections were today. But in Pakistan, as in India, six months is a political lifetime.


  1. Broadsword has ALSO sold out to
    the Pakis

    Just like Gurmeet Kanwal of CLAWS

  2. @ Anonymous 11:17

    Yeah, we're all sold out. Now the defence of India is in the hands of little shitbags like yourself... who will safeguard the motherland by writing inane comments on blogs.

    God help us from people (using the word loosely) like you!

  3. It means that u r recently back from Pakistan. God save that country......apart from that what's ur opinion on the most scandolous 'lafda' between Hina Rabbani Khar and s/o of Zrdari , bilawal Bhutto....what will be Zardari's he that valiant to shoo away the massive party fund which in the form of his sons inherited wealth by acting against him.....this Q is totally offtopic but i know u will reply......thanks in advance.....

  4. Shiva Gopal Reddy2 October 2012 at 00:30

    Imran Khan, the proclaimed Messiah, who will save the Pakistan from the brink and end corruption in 90 days will have first shock of his life when half the facebook-trotting youth fail to turn up at the polling booth.

    With Punjabi vote split between PMLN and PTI, PPP+ will emerge as the largest alliance, if not win the outright majority. And trust Machiavellian schemes of Zardari to sail the ship for another 5-year term.

  5. @ Broadsword ..
    get a hold on yourself,don't stoop to the level of foolish commentators.
    btw,why did you bring this up --Pakistani politics --they still have long way to go before they truly can be called as democracy. and i have my doubts whether they will ever,once the Americans leave Afghanistan,the mullahs hiding in the caves will come out and start ruling the ruins,there popularity will grow rapidly.Pakistani army, many time has allowed NATO forces and some times even sided with NATO in hunting down the radicals,and the radicals will not make any peace deal with the Pakistani establishment which is in power now,after 2014,Pakistan could go either way,in the hands of mullahs or with elected government.Pakistan is in very tight situation now,and all the indicators point that their future is not rosy.the spread of radical thoughts is alarming,minorities are fleeing,shias are dragged out of buses and sot dead,mullahs have went to the extent of banning music,arts etc in their stronghold,literally it's Afghanistan in making now.

  6. We have gone down from Control to Containment to Integration with Pakistan.

    I dont like it, the same way I don't like this pro-pakistan article, but given that it is logical choice rather than one heavily influenced. We can do nothing about it, geo-political changes are often faster than we think.

    That being said, it is the generous-accepting-forgiving attitude that I see in your article, which has time and again let us been bullied by a smaller foe.

    I hope that I am wrong.

  7. I like this post well researched, thought of and first hand. I see lot of your view but based on your talks with people and understanding.

    Uhmmm...... there is some fresh air here with caution.

    A steady, stable Pakistan is certainly in the interest of India as a whole and the common man.

    If what is written here is the trend and continues, it should be be much difficult for Pakistan to integrate the regions outside Punjab region of Pakistan, into a growth driven scenario.
    Question then is if India is seen as an opportunity, then we should get from better to best, not only woowing west and east but also this neighbor with good infrastructure and policies to help us benefit with the growth.

    Shun the politics of caste and regional divide in states and generate confidence in our people, the growth then is not only good for us but also for South Asia.

  8. What business do you have though to be part of a Track2 channel when you are supposedly a neutral journalist?

    What is going on in these Track2 events - where is the transparency, that a so called democracy should exhibit?

    Yes, you may call the anon above a shitbag, but his fears are real. Gurmeet Kanwal, did in fact become a complete sell out if one looks at his position vis a vis what the Army has paid for in blood. And these Track2 events do end up a breeding house for wannabe peaceniks who keep compromising on Indian interests while Pakistanis defend their use of terror. Am I mistaken regarding the one you are involved in? Please correct me, if so, and give us some transparent insight into whether India's interests are indeed being served by these so called Track2 meets.

    I am not a Punjabi and could not care less about Punjabi energy or Lahore or Pakistan itself. All I want is that India's interests remain defended and we defeat Pakistani adventurism, including their brazen use of terrorism.

  9. @ajai: is it possible for you to comment on track 2 with Pakistan and more importantly wat shud we expect from "final stages" of boundary talks with China; may be you will be writing a piece on Vikramaditya so won't ask abt it; but super sukhoi is u have bag full to pick from. As for this topic goes; I don't see any major change is Pakistan's policy (UN speech:zardari)but probaly India-Pakistan relations might be on Indo-China track in next 5-7 years; if zihadi elements do not disturb the piece and ISI do not dare a Mumbai again.

  10. Colonel Shukla,

    By now u shud b immune to the comment-bug....anyways, I find it interesting to read this post and then read this!

  11. Sirji,

    you mean to say Pakistan is no more failing state and bouncing back to equilibrium?

  12. If India presents more opportunity, why not have a unification?

  13. India will never be sure so long as Pakistan remains a nation state.

  14. @ Anonymous 13:25

    Your views of Pakistan are completely over the top! I would recommend that you apply for a visa and travel to that country. That would introduce some much-needed balance in your perceptions.

    Pakistan has very serious problems, no doubt. And it will have to deal with them. But to assume that the country is going under is wildly inaccurate.

    @ As simple as that

    I think the problem with you is that any article that does not engage in Pakistan-bashing is seen by people like you as "pro-Pakistan".

    My article is pure political analysis. There is no "pro" or "anti" in it. That is for ideologues, not serious analysts.

    @ Arun

    Your assumption seems to be that everyone who engages in dialogue (of any kind) gets "corrupted" and becomes a peacenik... while people who stick to their guns and keep writing articles critical of all and sundry are the real patriots. I'm surprised!

    You have no idea of what was discussed. You have no idea of what I said in those meetings. But you're clear that anyone who participates becomes a "peacenik".


    @ Rhino from Kaziranga.

    You've got it wrong on two counts. Firstly, Pakistan was a "failing state" only in the imagination of people who never travel there. And secondly, it is a long way from bouncing back to equilibrium! That's a long, hard road which Pakistan will have to walk.

    @ kulari94

    Because Pakistan has become an independent nation with an independent identity and does not want to "unify" with you. The only solution to a marital breakdown is not "reunification". Sometimes it is an amicable separation and divorce.

  15. Not surprised at all to know that an average Pakistani wants to have trade with India rather than trading bullets across the border. Frankly I do not see the current generation of politicians in either country solving the problems and forging peace. We need the new generation, post Kargil generation, that has not dealt with any of these to actually fix anything. For that we need two things, patients as the history suggests our leaders are old and thus expect to wait at least 4 more decades before any movement on this, and the other is no more Kargil type situations from now until the time peace has been achieved. I really hope that day comes, if not in my lifetime, then hopefully duing my children's.

  16. Ajai-sir
    The predicament in Indo-Pak relationship is that they tend to NOT respect solumn, bilateral, agreements (such as the Simla accord and so on.) Nothing prevents them from taking advantage, when the boot is on the other foot (as in the 80s and 90s).
    Any leeway from India is exploited promptly by their much-nimbler diplomacy - easing on Mumbai gave the 'we are also suffering from terrorism' and 'let's move ahead' mantras while Hafiz Sayeed spouts venom. They just believe in tactical, not long-ranging reforms, hence comparisons with Adanauer-de Galle fall flat for a generation.
    If they have a generation retiring from wars, we too have a generation that has seen only terror from them, so allow us some 'schadenfreude' for a few years before we negotiate seriously.

  17. Colonel Shukla:

    India will never be secure unless Pakistan ceases to exist as a nation state. Pakistan may not want to unify with India, but in this case, what Pakistan wants and what is in the interests of everyone else is not the same.
    I believe that Pakistan unifying with India, with some degree of autonomy, is in the interests of the Indian people (and frankly, in the interests of everyone else, as well).

  18. @Broadsword

    Well every reader may comprehend a different undertone when he reads your article, I dont question that.

    On my part I believe that, if you are eager to see some good in people you probably would find ways to see it, even if it does not exists.

    I call it a Mirage.

  19. "Your views of Pakistan are completely over the top! I would recommend that you apply for a visa and travel to that country. That would introduce some much-needed balance in your perceptions."

    don't get carried away by the cities gardens and buildings,they hardly matter,the country's future is not dependent on no of MC Donald's or KFC or even on no of shopping malls,the country's destiny is decided by those who are in shouldn't be bothered about no of people welcoming you there,don't count the no of smiling faces,the thing you will have to concentrate on is,what the rulers want Pakistan to be and how serious are they,what is their vision for Pakistan?.
    call me whatever you like,but history stands evidence that civilizations and empires have been ruled and governed by only a handful of men,and more often than not,the fate of majority is decided by handful than majority themselves.right now,those who are in power are the least trustworthy,the ISI is hell bent on to spread Islam in the region,to state the proof,recently two Chechen terrorists were captured, who upon interrogation revealed that they were trained in Pakistan and where assigned to attack Greece.Their military is no different,the political leadership is hardly any different,recently, the wife of current prime minister of Pakistan made passed derogatory comments against western women for their clothing lifestyle on their hi-jab day,you get the feel the kind of atmosphere that prevails in the house of prime minister when his wife blames all western women of unethical behavior.their judiciary is on a rampage now,taking on every minister.they proliferated nuclear technology to Islamic nations in hope of making Islamic nations strong enough to counter the dominance of non Islamic nations.over the years secularism has declined and will only continue to decline,recent survey showed that over whelming majority of Pakistanis favor sharia law instead of the present form of governance, you lost your way seeing the building or gardens there,think strategically.

    if you go to china,even the same can be said,that they are extremely peaceful,sociable and welcoming people,but that does not change the reality that there is an impending war with china on disputed territories.

  20. Very nice and balanced article. How was your stay in Lahore? Did you get to try some of their food?

  21. I don't see what is particularly pro-Pakistan about this article. Chicken hawks in India would rather avert their eyes when provided with a nuanced analysis of Pakistan. Reminds me of US conservatives who would rather not learn about Chinese or Russian politics.

    However I fear that you are being too journalistic and allowing the thinking of the moment to affect your analysis. Pakistanis love even more than Indians to tell you "what is really going on" and I suspect the ISI support for Imran is not so much a function of what ISI chief A or B thinks but what the army estimates his usefulness to be. I am pretty sure Kayani/corps commanders will not leave such decisions to some random ISI chief.

  22. Ajai ji,

    "apply for a visa and travel to that country." AND "people who never travel there"....On two counts you have suggested to visit before forming an opinion..

    Ok, so who guarantees security of a common Indian citizen(read Hindu kafir in their language) 'genuinely' wanting to travel to Pakistan to connect with those folks. ANY of the four axes (you mentioned) through which political power flows in Pakistan? GOI? Pakistani Taliban? or you?

    Janab, traveling around the globe as journalist is not the same as traveling as a common man (in addition to the fact that you are an ex-army man before being a civilian)

    I am a right winger without any qualms but at the same time, I would very much like to connect IF proper conditions exist. Unless Pakistan 'creates' such atmosphere, I am afraid opinions will be formed based on what's written (by main stream media) and read and you will find 'ideologues' commenting on ur posts.

  23. Ajai, i can only go by the records of prominent Track-2'ers like Kanwal, etc.

    If as you say we have no idea as to what is disucssed in Track2, then inform us.

    If you wish to state that Indians engaged in Track2 do not become peaceniks, then inform us.

    Nothing prevents you from doing so. I fact it would be interesting.

  24. @Anonymous..
    "Chicken hawks in India would rather avert their eyes when provided with a nuanced analysis of Pakistan. Reminds me of US conservatives who would rather not learn about Chinese or Russian politics."
    S.m Krishna's words are soothing to hear when he talks about improved India- Pakistan relations,but it would naive on your part if you don't listen to national security adviser's(NSA) words of manmohan singh said "trust but verify",if NSA came out in the public with the facts and evidences to show how the ISI is planning its next attack on India,then not having any deal with them(Pakistan) makes a lot of sense.Pakistanis are famous around the world for their double talk,remember when even one of the Tali-ban commanders made this statement "Pakistanis speaks with two tongues in their mouth",they are experts in using beautiful words,but if we let our guard down,another Mumbai attack is inevitable.


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