Assessing Zardari

On November 22 2008, Zardari, addressing the Hindustan Times leadership summit, talked of reconciliation and promised a no-first use nuclear policy – the first time any Pakistani head of state has done so. He said, in response to a question, that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris and, most shockingly of all:

“Zardari borrowed a quote from his late wife, who once said that there’s a “little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan” in every Indian.

“I do not know whether it is the Indian or the Pakistani in me that is talking to you today,” Zardari said, amid applause from his high-profile audience, which included diplomats, politicians and industrialists.”

Four days after that, the Mumbai attacks began.

On January 14 2010, Zardari delivered a speech in Lahore – in Punjabi:

I have never once heard a Pakistani head of state deliver a speech in a regional language from another part of the country. Not once. And I have never once heard a Pakistani head of state say the kinds of things about peace with India that Zardari said in his speech at the Hindustan Times leadership summit.

On both these two occasions, Zardari addressed issues that are at the very heart of Pakistan’s deep dysfunction as a state: its relationship with India, and its provincial imbalances. On both these occasions his actions should have been saluated as visionary – as treading ground that no other leader of Pakistan has ever gone on.

This is not to say that PPP’s leadership has not made many mistakes or to ignore President Zardari’s flaws. But I am just wondering why these aspects of President Zardari’s leadership are never applauded and never even mentioned in the media or in the blogs. I hate to say it, but I think it’s because these issues are simply not a priority for the people who shape public discourse. If anything, they are issues in exactly the opposite sense – they are issues on which President Zardari is considered an unpredictable, unhinged security risk to the integrity of Pakistan.

As someone pointed out to me recently, it’s funny and also instructive to see the quarters from which the loudest criticism is coming from. These are people who salute Generals who make speeches about strategic depth in Afghanistan, even going so far as to breathlessly make up labels like “The Kayani Doctrine” for old dysfunction wrapped in new rhetoric. They love the Chief Justice who go around making speeches about accountability to Allah alone. They reward judges who brazenly justified their own oaths under PCO by making them symbols of independent judiciary. When PML-N panders to terrorists, they justify it by saying that PML-N is simply doing realist politics in Jhang. It’s little wonder that there is no room in the fascist, hyper-nationalist discourse of such people for a leader who talks about reconciliation with India or who takes a progressive stance on provincial rights.



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