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Zardari's Pakistan: Lessons from Musharraf's Presidency

By Shuja Nawaz

If the current political math holds, Asif Ali Zardari, the co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples' Party appears to be a shoo-in to succeed General Pervez Musharraf as the next regular President of Pakistan on September 6. But he will not have much time to exult. Pakistan today is facing an existential threat from Islamist militants in its Western half; its economy is reeling from the depredations of runaway inflation, food and power shortages, capital flight, falling foreign exchange reserves, and a political system riven by discord. The improbable coalition with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) has fallen apart. With the object of their attacks (Musharraf) no longer around, it seems nothing more was holding them together.

But the prize of the presidency will not be the end of the road to political redemption for Zardari and his party. He faces huge hurdles before he can proclaim victory and enjoy its fruits. In the run-up to the presidential elections, Zardari's opponents raised anew all the charges of graft, cronyism, and misgovernment that had dogged his earlier political career. The apparent coup de grace was a report in The Financial Times that cited his serious mental problems, including depression and dementia; his lawyers produced this report as evidence in a British court to excuse his failure to appear in one of the cases against him. For a man who may shortly be rising to head the National Command Authority of Pakistan, the master of the country's nuclear arsenal, and who may inherit the vast presidential powers that Musharraf had accumulated, any hint of mental instability would be a serious drawback. No one seems to have focused on the fact that the medical report by American doctors represents one of the sorrier aspects of U.S. legal proceedings, whereby "expert medical witnesses" can be hired for princely sums to offer exactly opposite views on the same subject in any court of law.

Assuming Zardari sweeps into the presidency, he will face another uphill task. He has little or no direct institutional or management experience. His political management style is not dissimilar from other political leaders in Pakistan: highly personalized and based on oral briefings and rapid-fire decision making. Some have described it as government by cell phone, referring to the two mobile phones that he carries in each pocket of his jacket and that ring non-stop, as he snaps orders to his party minions. Will he devolve responsibilities, as he should, or will he try to run the government and the country from the presidency, as Musharraf did?

He will also need to battle history. Most civilian successors of autocratic or dictatorial regimes in Pakistan have found it hard to divest themselves of the concentrated powers of the preceding dictators. They became civilian dictators. Zardari's biggest test will be whether he lives up to his pre-election promises to the country to rid the country of the 17th Amendment that gave Musharraf sweeping powers. Doing this would restore Pakistan to parliamentary democracy and make the Prime Minister the supreme executive, with the president as a symbolic head of state. Zardari's sycophants will clamor against any such move. It will be tempting to accede to their wishes. But he must remember that any accumulation of unfettered power in the past, even by Nawaz Sharif, created equal and opposite forces within the country. The results were never pretty. Gravitas, not hubris should be the key word of the day. Moreover, Pakistan today has a range of countervailing forces at work: the powerful army, as always; a rising news media; an energized civil society, epitomized by the lawyers' movement that led to Musharraf's departure; and the market forces of the globalized economy that will make Pakistan pay severely for political turmoil and instability. Dictatorship, whether civil or military, has no place in Pakistan today.

Zardari must also pay attention to other realities. The army still remains a key player in Pakistan. While the return of civilian supremacy is a devout wish of the people of Pakistan, any government that attempts to make changes in the civil-military relationship by fiat and with contumely rather than consultation with the army risks a confrontation with unhappy results. The recent ill-conceived notification about the placing of the Inter Services Intelligence agency under the Advisor to the Ministry of the Interior brought back memories of Prime Minister Bhutto's ill-fated and abortive attempt to remove the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff by notification in 1989. President Zardari would do well to take the time to read some of the recent history of civil-military relations in his country. President Musharraf apparently did not.

Another key lesson from the Musharraf presidency relates to the political deal-making with the Islamic parties by which their votes were bought in return for concessions. Musharraf's deal with the Islamic parties allowed them to acquire undue power in parliament and ushered in militancy, even in the heart of Islamabad. Today, the PPP seems to have made arrangements with the Islamic and regional parties to garner support for the presidential elections. If in return, Zardari halts the increasingly successful military operations against the militants, there will be a serious loss of momentum in the effort to control the Taliban and other extremist elements in Pakistan. A pause in the military pressure will give them time to regroup and recover their strength. He must rescind rapidly the so-called Ramadan cease fire. Otherwise the army and the country will pay dearly for this move.

The challenge for Pakistan's next president will be to restore the country back to political stability. The best way forward would be for him to take on a role as neutral non-partisan and uniting figure rather than a party-oriented activist. As a clean, statesmanlike, and deliberative head of state, he could bring Pakistan back from the abyss of economic and political tumult and chaos. Is "President" Zardari ready for that challenge?

Shuja Nawaz is the author of the recently released Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford University Press, 2008). He can be reached at www.shujanawaz.com

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Comments (28)


Well zaradari has been made the president of Pakistan.Well i dont blame Zardari ,i blame the whole Pakistani nation,for giving their right votes to his party (PPP),which gave Asif Ali zardari full power and made him the president of Pakistan.I still remember the days of elections,when the ppl were simply aplauding the PPP,and alot of my friends 2.Now that the situation of Pakistan is deplorable,and facing economic crisis,the future of Pakistan relies on Mr.Asif Ali Zardari ,the person who had been involved in numerous charges.Following r afew,but its unkwnon that how many more.

He spent several years in jail on charges of corruption. He was labelled "Mr 10%".

He found himself in major trouble in 1990 when he was accused of tying a remote-controlled bomb to the leg of a businessman and sending him into a bank to withdraw money from his account as a pay-off.

However, he was whisked out of prison to be made a minister after the PPP won elections in 1993.

In 1996, he was arrested under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. He found himself charged with the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, his wife's brother.

He was later charged, along with his wife, and convicted in a kickbacks scam involving a Swiss company, SGS.

But a mistrial was declared by Pakistan's Supreme Court following a major scandal involving the accountability bureau and the judge who had issued the verdict.

Pakistan's judiciary has not had a reputation for acting independently of the government when it comes to high-profile cases, especially of a political nature.

His last prison sentence lasted eight years until 2004, during which time he says he was tortured.

It ended as the then General Musharraf was engaged in protracted negotiations with Benazir Bhutto, then in self-imposed exile, for some form of political reconciliation.

Now u can see the fate of ppl of Pakistan is on the guy,who u knw wel.



zardare i fick you your bing tef and caremlar
zardare i fick your dotar bhaktaver.

Slave of G-d:

Pakistan is a failed state! Half belongs to Afghansistan and the other to India. The pustoon people should join thier fatherland Afghanistan and let the punjabis run the rest of the wasteland!
Pakistanis are to blame! The have ellected MR. 10%. Hey that is like interest? Is not that banned in Islam? The wrath of G-d is coming to pakistan via the efficiency of the Great American Army!


Pakistan has to decide what sort of country it wants to be. Only then will all this jostling at the top yield something constructive.


it is this country that has a serious mental problem. what a stupid title. No wonder everyone hate us so much.


If you don't think Zardari's a good leader, that's fine. But don't use mental illness as your lead when that isn't really what your article is about. Dementia would almost certainly be a problem for any leader, but many sufferers of depression would make fine heads of state. I find it hurtful that the only way you could think of to get attention for your political views of one leader was to reinforce the deeply entrenched stigma against the mentally ill.


Zardari should help the Kasmir problem by helping all Muslims in Kashmir and in the rest of India to migrate to Pakistan and live by sharia laws. With an additional 200 million Muslims from India in their midst, Pakistanis will become very prosperous and be able to compete with India.


Pakistan is the #1 supporter of terrorism in the world. Almost every terrorist strike against the West since 9/11 has its roots in Pakistan. And look at all these terrorist arrests and foiled plots that have been uncovered recently in Europe and the U.S. They too are all based in Pakistan. Law enforcement needs to target their terrorism investigations on this country in order to protect innocent Americans. If, God forbid, American gets hit with another major attack, it surely will be rooted in pakistan, like 9-11 was. The Wahaabi ideology has penetrated Pakistan, its government, its military and its intelligence agencies. And so, First, Pakistan should be placed on the list of terrorism-supporting countries. Second, the U.S. Treasury Dept. needs to put more Pakistan-based groups, people on its list of terrorism supporters. A lot of money is still flowing from the Muslim community in the U.S. to anti-American terrorist groups in pakistan. And third, the pentagon needs to be more aggressive in fighting terrorism in Pakistan. And we need to rethink all this civilian aid we're giving them, most of which ends up in the hands of anti-American terrorists or inteligence officials.


This man is going to become the President of Pakistan but not because of his own abilities but because our elected MNAs, MPAs and Senators will elect him as the President of Pakistan.
Do we have the guts to ask our elected MNAs/MPAs as to why they will elect Mr. Zardari whose bad past is known to the whole world.

Javaid Iqbal Qureshi, Chief News Editor APP Urdu Service, Islamabad. Cell# +923215179231:

Dear Editor
It is extremely shocking that in the article titled Zardari's Pakistan: Lessons from Musharraf's Presidency, carried by your esteemed news paper on September 02, 2008 in comments 13 "Mr. Shuja truely explained about the past of Mr.Zardari. He is thug by all means not a politician. Actually turn-coat Haqqani is working for him. God may bless Pakistan from band of thieves and thugs" have been wrongly and mischievously attributed to me which is not only highly damaging for my professional repute but also totally contrary to my opinion in this regard. My strong denial to this effect must be placed prominently in the relevant category on the web site of your Paper besides communicating same to me through my personal E.Mail (jiq22@hotmail.com) and my Organization (APP) E.Mail address (appnews@isb.comsats.net.pk) by today (September 05) positively. Otherwise I reserve my legal right to sue the paper in concerned court of law.


Javaid Iqbal Qureshi
Chief News Editor
Urdu News Service
APP Headquarters, Islamabad.
Cell# +923215179231
Ph: 0092512203061-65

Mohammad Rao:

There is this saying, which goes like "A nation's leaders are a reflection of its people". We all know what Zardari stands for. Please dont say "God save this nation". We have to stand up and do something ourselves, and then God will surely help us too in preventing the tragedy of 'president' Zardari.
It really pains to see Pakistan in the present condition. The time to blame foreign intervention for today's ills should be over. We need to believe that we have the ability to steer this ship forward. How can the people of Pakistan forget the corruption of the past governments of PPP and PML and then expect better under Zardari?
I believe a blood-revolution is due in Pakistan. We need a cleansing of the streets. The common man is too busy trying to provide for his family under the burden of high inflation and low income.
The corrupt systems provide no relief from injustice, unless you have the right 'contacts'. The finance ministry has no idea of whats happening to the value of the ruppee.
But things can get better. They will do so. A revolution is due. We must come out of our comfort zone to make it happen. Think of pakistan for a while, not your own personal interest. Get rid of leaders that build their wealth from the tax payers' money.

M. Shahjahan Bhatti:

I'm apolitical Pakistani. I believe Zardari as president of Pakistan will bring the country to its logical end. The only way out is laptop leadership, which seems impossible in near future of the country.

Manzoor Ahmad Taray ( Kashmir):

It is irony that Pakistani policitians are not learning from the past mistkes. Mr. Zardari enjoys the majority of vote bank required for election to the office of Preisenet of Pakistan. But he should have learnt something from the widow of Rajiv Gandhi ( Mrs, Sonia Gandhi ) who refused to accept the post of Prime Minsiter of India and is presently engaged in nourshing her son Rahoul Gnadhi as future Prime Minster. I think Mr. zardari will definietly become President of Pakistan but his son will never ever rise to the position that her mother aspired for him due to misdeeds of his father.

Mumtaz A. Piracha:

We tend to agree with the writer. He has very ably pinpointed the potholes, challenges and delicacy of the situation, currently obtaining in Pakistan. Democracy is still fragile and will need a good deal of time, energy and hardwork on the part of the mainstream political parties to strengthen it and make it viable for the people.

There are grave political and constitutional issues on hand. The break-up of the PPP-PML(N) coalition and its fallout, repeal of the 17th Amendment, resurgence of the former president Musharraf's PML(Q)with a big bang, JI's demand for impeachment of the former president Musharraf, militancy on the Pak-Afghan border, presence of US-Nato forces in Afghanistan and Taliban's opposition to it, growing terrorism within the country, internal and external security issues, the U.S. dominance and the army's powerful shadows, restoration of the deposed judges, especially Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, are a few of the key issues that Mr Asif Zardari will be called upon to deal with on high priority, in addition to what Mr. Shuja Nawaz has stated in his write-up.

PPP will have to align itself either with PML(N) or PML(Q)to keep the opposition at bay. These two mainstream parties may be short on numbers in parliament and the provincial legislatures as compared to the PPP, but these cannot be sidelined or ignored in the civilian political setup of the country. The merger of the two PML factions or their alliance can be a big threat to the PPP.

Mr. Asif Zardari has long projected himself as a man of reconciliation. He will have to continue with the same posture to be able to rule the country in a peaceful and harmonious way. He will have to forget and forgive, reinvent the PPP, reconcile with his party dissidents, keep himself away from dubious financial transactions and notorious bedfellows, avoid being overly dominating or authoritative within and outside the party and the government and nurture a healthy, cordial and respectful relationship with other political parties and groups, civil society organizations, media, judiciary and parliament. He will have to be tolerant, understanding and supportive as a symbol of unity in his new role as the president of Pakistan. He would be expected to ensure delegation of authority, responsibility and accountability at all levels of the federal government. He would be expected to maintain provincial autonomy and do justice to all provinces in funds and facilitation. He may also have to give up his party position as co-chairman to maintain the facade of neutrality that goes with the outward appearance of the presidency.

Good Governance Forum

Nasir Ali Shah:

We must remember the past and on the basis of that we must go ahead in future. Zardari's past is known to everyone on the face of this earth. Human nature cannot be changed by words and slogans. We will find him the same person like before with no one to keep a check on him.

Javaid Iqbal Qureshi Editor APP Urdu service:

Mr. Shuja truely explained about the past of Mr. Zardari. He is thug by all means not a politician.
Actually turn-coat Haqqani is working for him.

God may bless Pakistan from band of thieves and thugs.


It is a truly a moment to ponder and wonder if the concept of democracy is even applicable to a country like Pakistan where more than 75% of the population does not even have a grad degree and where a mere voter turnout is no more than 10-15%. yet the tall claims are made by the corrupt politicans that they have the mandate of the masses.

Now ask yourself how is an illetrate nation like Pakistan to differentiate between a capable professional person like Musharraf or an outright thug like zardari whereby fraudulent democracy, a sold out media and corrupt political forces are at work to fool the masses.

Hamid Khawaja:

Zardari's doings are well known in Pakistan. If the electoral college still wants him, it speaks of the kind of people we have elected. I am surprised that they are silent about the 60 million dollars just released to him by a Swiss Court. And that's not all.


There is a saying in urdu, "Khuda us koum ki halat nahe badalta, na ho khayal jis ko apni halat badalne ka". We Pkistani as a nation has a very short memory and forgets every thing around us, a person like Zardari, I wouldn't comment on it coz every body knows about him, is now the stongest candidate for the presidential seat. I can imagine, what a bright future we are going to have under him. Alas!
I am a young Pakistani and have witnessed the 8 years of Musharraf and 10 years of Benazir-Nawaz tango. All these politicians have brought misery in our country, Musharraf did lil good but then ruined by the politicians, we atleast moved lil ahead. I am surprised what role our intellectuals are playing in the political awareness, most of the known tv anchors and columists are either on agencies pay role or they are just yellow jornalists except few good ones.
I will request all of the intellectuals that please play their positive role in the awakening of nation. Even after the spane of 60 years we are unable to become as a nation. We are either being roled by the corrupt politicians or the dictators.

Anju Chandel:

Nothing; Pakistan can never learn anything from any history. They will remain where they are, forever. ... God save Pakistan!


Re: Iftikhar Choudhry
I just need to correct Mr. Naeem comments, regarding Justice Iftikhar Ch.
He is not Punjabi. He is Baluchi by ethnicity. Just because his last name is Chaudhry, doesn't automatically make him Punjabi. He proclaims to be a Baluchi.
Secondly people of Punjab have voted Sindhis to power (Z.A.Bhutto and B.Bhutto). Mohammad Khan Junejo was another Sindhi who became Prime Minister with overwhelming support from Punjabi parliamentarians. This bias is not found in Punjab against Sindhis, but vice versa may be true.


good article. zardari is a petty thug and not a politician. it won't be long before he's thrown out.

Mohammad Naeem:

Mr Shujja is a Punjabi like Nawaz Sharif is. Therefore, coming hard on Zardari may be understandab keeping in mind the historical hostility Punjabi ruling classes have had to Sindhis. One can also see why did the Punjabi judge Choudri Iftikhar along with other Punjabi influential figures like Nawaz Sharif, Choudri Itizaz Ahsan, Imran Khan, probably also in collaboration withPunjabi core commanders stage a coup against Musharaf.

Sultan Ahmed:

The fact is that
Zardari has no ability
to becoming headc of a islamic state
because his past don't support to such position.

He involved such case,
islamic principle has become a great hurdle in the way.

It will bw right when i say,
Musharraf is better than him due to international political knowledge,Army experiencxe and command on ebglish language.

I would like to advice him,
changing his mind and take a other able person for president ship.

michael russo:

mr zarderi should sell all his assets abroad worth millions and invest in countrys infrastructure to start.he is very well off finincialy.i dont think he will take money from pakistan reserve bank.


Well a person who is believed to be the most corrupt person in pakistan is going to become the president of Pakistan, in wikepedia his introduction is as a man of 10%. its failure of democracy and also Musharraf 8 year rule on pakistan.
Pakistan hopes are only with God now.


An excellant,excellant,excellant........VERY VERY EXCELLANT ariticle.
As the author asks " Is 'Prsident' Zardari ready for that challenge? "


Muslims, whether pakistani or any other nationality, NEVER LEARN. The rich only love money, no problem how and where it comes from.

Democratic leaders, Presidents and Prime Ministers all over the world never learn either, whether its BUSH, ZARDARI or even India's Manmohan Singh or UK's Brown or even the republican and Alsakan Palin, whose teenage daughter sets a cool REPUBLICAN AND AMERICAN example, with the perfect timing.

whats common with all of them? They all have a lifetime [cradle to grave] infection with the same trojan virus called .......GREED!!!

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