Zardari Speaks Not

What Zardari did not say and did not see
In a lacklustre performance devoid of any fireworks, any depth of vision, commitment or strength of argument, President Asif Ali Zardari went through the motions on Tuesday almost thanking the opposition for their absence so that he could quickly finish the drab show and get back to running the country from his bunker a few yards away.
It was a speech most of which he had read last year, and years before, adding a few odd points at the last minute in a shoddy manner for the galleries like starting off abruptly by asking the UN for condemning the maverick US pastor who had burnt copies of the Holy Quran, instead of dealing with the issue in a serious manner. Full of oft-repeated clichÈs, rhetoric and empty promises, the presidential address was marked more by what he did not say than what he told the nation.
If before he got up to address the joint session he had closed his eyes for a few minutes and had quickly surveyed his three-year reign, he would have seen where he had brought the country. What he missed in his speech, he may have seen with his eyes closed.
Here is a 10-point list of what Zardari missed in his speech but would have realised:
- He has run the country as a one-man show since the day Benazir Bhutto lost her life and left this nation in the hands of someone she had blacklisted from politics and banned from entering Pakistan while she was alive.
- His failure to become a respected national leader with credibility, depth and vision has turned Pakistan almost into an intolerant, wayward and undependable pariah state, despised equally by friends and foes internationally, distrusted by global economic and financial institutions. 
- His style and pettiness in politics has earned him no new friends, if there were any in the beginning they are no more, only a coterie of self-seekers and treasure hunters surrounds him, internationally he has not been trusted with any aid money. Even the Kerry-Lugar dollars are tied to strings because of lack of trust.
- His domestic politics is in shambles. Political allies and opponents do not believe a word of what he says, ratings among the masses is remarkably low, within the PPP there is a strong feeling of a mafia controlling the party and al credible leaders have either sidelined themselves voluntarily or have been pushed aside. The party no longer represents the voice of its electorate. Most of his opponents and allies preferred not to listen to him.
- His relations with the courts are at the bottom low and his policy of defiance and confrontation has reached such despicable levels that now even small shopkeepers like one-room cable operators are defying the courts. Where this defiance will take the nation is not hard to imagine as rule of law is being buried day by day and Asif Zardari is leading this mission to demolish the courts. He wants a return to the Dogar era but he does not realise that if he succeeds, the next dictator will use the same court against him and with a vengeance.
- His dealings with the establishment are reduced to blackmailing and threats of using the Sindh Card. Every time there is a sign that the army may support judgments by the independent judiciary, the Sindh Card is waved. Just luckily the army and the security establishment is not yet in a position to strike back but instead of using this weakness to consolidate the political system, Asif Zardari has done everything to insult and humiliate them. Reports that there was some kind of a celebration in the Presidency because the army and ISI were being publicly kicked for the Raymond Davis fiasco have been noted by some politicians, one making a public statement condemning the Presidency.
- His relations with the media are rancorous and based on the policy of buying or bullying. The blatant use of Pemra to shut down all the channels when the entertainment-starved country was waiting for the Pakistan-Australia World Cup match is an example of how low the thinking has gone to punish critics. There is no realisation of the damage such policies may cause to the concept of rule of law and justice. If every one is encouraged to defy the highest of courts, only the principle of might is right may prevail. We all know who has the might when chips are down.
- His attempts to survive and avoid his own accountability have just succeeded to the point of delaying the inevitable. While he did not mention the word corruption in his speech, the SC has to give its final verdict on many of his cases and the judges have hinted that there has to be a limit to their patience. Once it runs out, either Zardari has to submit to the law or push the justice system towards a collapse. Whatever he achieves will not be in his own interest so there is no win-win or win-lose option but only a lose-lose situation.
- His tall claims of bringing billions of dollars and generating local and foreign investment have evaporated into colourless smoke. He now needs a consensus to put the blame on others as well.
- His favours to his cronies have brought him troubles, infamy and at the end humiliation. But the irony is that these cronies will not stand by him. They will be the first to run, leaving him in the dock.
This list can go on and on but when the president spoke in the joint session of parliament, there was no indication of sharing any responsibility or blame. He should have told the nation how he plans to address these wrongs. He did not.
How the nation pays for these gross mistakes and blunders is yet to be assessed but what is certain is that the more time Zardari is given to preside over this disaster, the greater will be the price. Everyone including parliamentarians, political leaders outside the parliament, the media, the courts, the civil society and the guardian of internal and external security must think hard how this price will be paid.
By Shaheen Sehbai,
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