Zardari's legacy... By Tassawur
11 September, 2013
The first elected president in the country's history to complete his five year tenure in office, Asif Ali Zardari, vacated the presidency on Sunday with full official protocol. However, it was not an easy five years and, throughout his tenure, Mr Zardari remained in the eye of the storm. He faced many unfavourable conditions in the presence of a fierce media and a hostile opposition. The tensions with the judiciary over the 'Memogate' scandal and the Swiss cases, the conspiracies of state and non-state actors and the dual office saga did not give him any sigh of relief. In addition, his party's poor handling of the many crises the country was challenged with and particularly the below average performance in governance kept adding to his agonies. However, whether or not the barrage of allegations that came his way were justified, Mr Zardari emerged virtually unscathed. In the wake of all these odd circumstances he showed proverbial perseverance, stoic resignation and patience with his signature smile on his face.
However, the devil has not been given his due. Mr Zardari must be credited with initiating and encouraging decisions that are destined to have a long-term impact. If his shortcomings are there, his achievements are also very important. His most cherished accomplishment has been purging the constitution of dictatorial pollution and restoring it, in letter and spirit, to its original form. Owing to frequent military interventions, executive powers were concentrated in the office of the president. In a rare show of political sagacity, Mr Zardari voluntarily surrendered those Herculean powers to the prime minister and parliament, the original custodians of those powers in a Westminster-modelled democracy.
If Mr Zardari had not shown this political acumen and had chosen not to entertain such democratic ideals, our political system would certainly have been the poorer for it. Despite the fact that he was victimised and his character assassinated, there was not a single case of political victimisation of his rivals. Moreover, the constitutional empowerment of Gilgit-Baltistan, devolution of powers to the provinces, acknowledgement of Baloch rights through the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (Balochistan Package), the establishment of an independent election commission, economic empowerment of marginalised women through the Benazir Income Support Programme, legislation against their harassment and domestic violence, and the development of Thar coal could only be realised because of his personal interest in these projects and his encouragement.
Being a strong believer in regionalism, he strengthened ties with China, Iran, Turkey, the Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan and India. In the wake of changing global realities, he tried to mend strained relations with Russia. His government's principled stance in the aftermath of the Salala attack of suspending NATO supplies through Pakistan and getting the Shamsi airbase vacated stands witness to his independent foreign policy, which has been a rare commodity in our leaders. He did not budge an inch and actively pursued the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, and he handed over control of the Gwadar deep sea port to China. It is quite unfortunate and unjust that, despite making all these historic initiatives and even giving up most of his presidential powers, Zardari could not soften the criticism against him. He would often say, “Instead of making headlines, we believe in making history.” The prime minister hosting a farewell for the departing president was the biggest tribute for the largely unsung Mr Asif Ali Zardari.