FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Godfather as President

Asif Ali Zardari — singled out by fate to become Benazir Bhutto’s husband and who, subsequently, did everything he could to prevent  himself from being returned to obscurity — will soon become the new President of Pakistan.  Oily-mouthed hangers-on, never in short supply in Pakistan, will orchestrate a few celebratory shows and the ready tongues of old cronies (some now appointed ambassadors to Western capitals) will speak of how democracy has been enhanced. Zardari’s close circle of friends, with whom he shared the spoils of power the last time around and who have remained loyal, refusing all inducements to turn state’s evidence in the corrruption cases against him, will also be delighted. Small wonder then that definitions of democracy in Pakistan differ from person to person.

There will be no expressions of joy on the streets to mark the transference of power from a moth-eaten general to a worm-eaten politician. The affection felt in some quarters for the Bhutto family is non-transferable. If Benazir were still alive, Zardari would not have been given any official post. She had been considering two other senior politicians for the Presidency. Had she been more democratically inclined she would never have treated her political party so scornfully, reducing it to the status of a family heirloom, bequeathed  to her son, with her husband as the regent till the boy came of age.  This, and this alone, has aided Zardari’s rise to the top.  He was disliked by many of his wife’s closest supporters in the People’s Party (or the Bhutto Family Party as its referred to by disaffected members) even when she was alive. They blamed his greed and  godfatherish behavior to explain  her fall from power on two previous occasions, which I always thought was slightly unfair. She knew. It was a joint enterprise. She was never one to regard politics alone as the consuming passion of her life and always envied the lifestyle and social behavior of the very rich. And he was shameless in his endeavors to achieve that status.

Today Zardari is the second richest person in the country with estates and bank accounts littered on many continents, including a mansion in Surrey worth several million today.  Many of Benazir’s inner circle, sidelined by the new boss (Zardari did rub their noses in excrement by having his apolitical sister elected from Larkana, hitherto a pocket borough of the Bhutto family) actively hate him. Benazir’s uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto (head of the clan) has sharply denounced him. Some even encourage the grotesque view that he was in some way responsible for her death. This is foolish. He is only trying to fulfill her legacy.

He was certainly charged with ordering the murder of his brother-in-law, Murtaza Bhutto, when Benazir was Prime Minister, but the case was never tried. Characteristically, one of Zardari’s first acts after his party’s victory in the February polls was to appoint Shoaib Suddle, the senior police officer connected to the Murtaza Bhutto ambush and killing, as the boss of the Federal Intelligence Agency. Loyalty is always repaid in full.

In the country at large his standing, always low, has sunk still further. The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million citizens may be poor, illiterate or semi-literate, but their instincts are usually sound. An opinion poll carried out by the New America Foundation some months ago revealed Zardari’s approval ratings at a low ebb — less than 14 per cent. These figures confirm the view that he is the worst possible slice  of Pakistan’s crumbly nationhood. The people will have no say in his election. Parliamentary cabals have already determined the result. I do not take too seriously the recent revelation that a psychiatrist had pronounced him suffering from acute dementia, incapable of recognizing his children due to a chronic loss of memory. This was, as is known, designed for the courtroom had he been prosecuted in London or Geneva  for large-scale money-laundering and corruption. All that is in abeyance now since he has been elevated into a  crucial figure in the ‘war on terror’.

A small mystery remained. Why did the US suddenly withdraw support from General Musharraf? An answer  was provided on  August 26 by Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times. The State Department, according to this report, was not in favor of an undignified and hasty departure, but unknown to them a hardcore neo-con faction led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to the Security Council, was busy advising Asif Zardari in secret and helping him plan the campaign to oust the General:

“Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts, a senior United States official said “Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?”… Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Mr. Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personal?” Copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department; the message was provided to the New York Times by an administration official who had received a copy.”

Khalilzad is an inveterate factionalist and a master of intrigue. Having implanted Hamid Karzai in Kabul (with dire results as many in Washington now admit) he had been livid with Musharraf for refusing to give 100  per cent support to his Afghan protege. Khalilzad now saw an opportunity to punish Musharraf and simultaneously try and create a Pakistani equivalent of Karzai.  Zardari fitted the bill. He is perfectly suited to being a total creature of  Washington. The Swiss government helpfully decided to release millions of dollars from Zardari’s bank accounts that had, till now, been frozen due to the pending corruption cases. Like his late wife, Zardari is now being laundered, just like the money he made when last in office as Minister for Investment. This weakness will make him a pliant President of Pakistan.

The majority of the population is deeply hostile to the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan. Almost 80 per cent favor a negotiated settlement and withdrawal of all foreign troops.  Three days ago, a team of US commandos entered Pakistan ‘in search of terrorists’ and twenty innocents were killed. Zardari was being tested. But if he  permits US troops to enter the Frontier province on ‘search-and-destroy’ missions his career will be short-lived and the military will return in some shape or form.  The High Command cannot afford to ignore the growing anger within its junior ranks at being forced to kill their own people.

The President of Pakistan was designed in the 1972 Constitution as an ornamental figure. Military dictators subverted and altered the constitution to their advantage. Will Zardari revert to his late father-in-law’s constitution or preserve its existing powers? The country desperately needs a president  capable of exercising some moral authority and serving as the conscience of the country. The banished Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry comes to mind, as do the figures of Imran Khan and I.A. Rehman (the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission), but the governing elite and its self-serving backers in Washington have always been blind to the real needs of this country. They should be careful. The sparks flying across the  Afghan border might ignite a fire that is difficult to control.

TARIQ ALI’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power’ will be published on September 15 by Scribner.His forthcoming US book tour details are on his webste: tariqali.org

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail