COMEMNT: Being Mr Asif Ali Zardari —Zafar Hilaly - Friday, January 28, 2011

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Asif Ali Zardari is in love with himself and that is a passion to which he has always remained faithful. Of course, some find this insufferable but, frankly, most of our leaders suffer from it too

One has the unmistakable feeling that if Mr Zardari had not been born Asif Zardari he would have liked to be an Asif Zardari. Think of the advantages. For a start, his adversaries expect the worst of him and all he has to do to come out ahead is not oblige. Nor does he have to bother about letting anyone down considering how few well-wishers he has. Then there is the question of his reputation, which — as he lost it a long while ago — is of no concern to him. Indeed, he must feel liberated by its loss because, until you lose your reputation, you never realise what a burden it is or what freedom really is. His adversaries on the other hand keep trying to blow up their reputation, forgetting that reputation, like a bubble, bursts when a man tries to blow it up himself. Moreover, as President, Mr Zardari enjoys all the perks of office while having to do none of the donkey work. And, lest some liken him to an empty suit, he can rightfully say that he can remove the prime minister merely by notifying the speaker. And that is not all; he also has immunity from prosecution meaning that he can even get away with murder.

But, while all the foregoing is what he owes to his colourful past and the peculiar constitution with which we are saddled, Mr Zardari’s political suave and the masterly way he puts even his unpopularity to good use is no accident. Nawaz Sharif, for example, has been compelled to support him lest the whole system collapse and the Sharif dream of a third term lies in tatters. The policy of reconciliation, a manifestation of weakness rather than wisdom, allows Mr Zardari to look good without having to do any good. Besides, it is a stance that sells well with the public.

The fact that Mr Zardari has developed the hide of an armadillo helps him shrug off criticism but that is not nearly as remarkable a feature about him as his conceit. Asif Ali Zardari is in love with himself and that is a passion to which he has always remained faithful. Of course, some find this insufferable but, frankly, most of our leaders suffer from it too. Mr Bhutto was about as arrogant a man with as inflated a sense of self as one could meet. Ziaul Haq claimed to answer only to God, mostly because he possessed no conscience, and Ayub Khan claimed that he was Asia’s de Gaulle, which properly infuriated the real de Gaulle.

And yet, if truth be told, Mr Zardari has much to be conceited about. He understands his electorate and his adversaries perhaps better than they understand themselves. He knows that the public has a short memory, and are forgiving of leaders who pander to their wishes. It has been said that the public buys its opinions as it buys its milk, on the principle that it is cheaper to do this than to keep a cow. So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered, “But so what?” Mr Zardari would respond, “They will drink it anyway.” Similarly, Mr Zardari knows that the public clamour for the here and now, and want instant gratification. Every public servant, for example, wanted an immediate wage raise. “So give it to them,” was Mr Zardari’s response. And, if you do not have the money, “print it” was his order.

Mr Zardari knows that politicians, as a rule, crave attention and importance and he obliges in spades. Governor Khosa’s mandate is to ingratiate himself with the Sharifs, so is Gilani’s. He keeps his doors wide open for the PML-Q. As for the tryst with Maulana Fazlul Rahman, their parting and mating dances are a source of much levity. Likewise, the MQM gets its pound of flesh. More importantly, Mr Zardari keeps the brass happy. He would even offer them the presidency for use as a mess, while the military’s own and no less grand messes are refurbished. As for the Americans, when their call comes to jump, all Mr Zardari does is to ask “how high?” Three examples illustrate his aplomb and cunning.

Having done his best not to restore the chief justice (CJ), he quickly did an about face when he saw that he might be defenestrated from the presidency by a howling mob. He then claimed that it was he who had restored the CJ. Everyone knew better but, in those early days, no one wanted to see the back of him and, to the general relief of all, the hubbub subsided.

In the case of the blasphemy matter, Mr Zardari has miraculously emerged none the worse considering his major role in that tragedy. Needless to say, Taseer did not go to visit Aasia Bibi on a spur of the moment urge. It was a calculated move undertaken with Mr Zardari’s prior clearance. The intention was to burnish the PPP’s credentials as a liberal force with our western backers. However, when the disastrous consequences of Taseer’s gestures began to surface, Mr Zardari withdrew his promised support. Instead, he let senior party hacks join the mullah’s refrain and deny that the party had any intention of amending the blasphemy law.

The script concerning the retrenchment of KESC workers called for the company to terminate the workers but, at the same time, to lay down conditions for their subsequent reinstatement. This was to be followed by the government stepping in on behalf of the sacked workers to demonstrate its Mother Theresa like concern for them. Meanwhile, the electricity minister, whose negotiating skills were last in evidence when purchasing an apartment in London, was to persuade the company to recant.

Lo and behold! Following ‘Rental Raja’s’ decisive intervention, the company reinstated all the workers. For joining in the charade and keeping to the script, the company will be rewarded by the government by coughing up past dues. Meanwhile, the PPP will have demonstrated its concern for the poor, and the workers, having endured the shock, are both relieved and grateful to Mr Zardari for ensuring that their home fires will keep burning.

Given such Houdini like acts of escaping from seemingly unavoidable disasters, is it any wonder then that among the PPP lot hopes of another term are high, and why not if we survive his ministrations for another two years?

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at

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