The objective of this article is not to criticise the government, for that has been done ad nauseum by all and sundry. Neither do I intend to foment the movement to oust the government, for removing a sitting government is the exclusive prerogative of the parliament and the executive. The objective here is to recognise and appreciate the introduction of a new tradition in Pakistan’s political discourse: the tradition of taking the high road, introduced by none other than el Presidente Asif Ali Zardari.
Never before has a political figure had such scorn heaped on him, never before has the occupant of the office of the President been the theme of so many jokes and never before has a President been subjected to such verbal assaults. In the face of such criticism, whether it is true or not, the norm is to throw down the gauntlet and unleash the dogs of war. But President Zardari has taken the high road. He has uttered no words unbecoming of the office of the President of Pakistan and has doubtless resisted the temptation to gag the media. In the face of unprecedented criticism, he has shown unprecedented fortitude. For that alone, he deserves credit.
A sitting chief minister has refused to acknowledge him as his president and threatens to ulta latka him if he does not bring back allegedly looted money. He has been called Mr 10 per cent and he has been called a bigger dictator than Musharraf. He has also been called countless other names I would rather not repeat here. What ever the objective of these verbal volleys, it has not been achieved. By refusing to get drawn into a shouting contest, Zardari has made his opponents look petty and hurt their credibility. Shahbaz Sharif’s October 28 speech will probably go down in history as the epitome of pettiness and manufactured hysteria. Everything including the kitchen sink is being thrown at Zardari, but nothing is sticking.
Perhaps the only criticism that holds any weight is that he has dragged his feet in the implementation of various Supreme Court judgments. His detractors have gone as far as to say that he is defying the Supreme Court, but that seems a stretch as Zardari has not once stated that he does not accept the judgments. Instead he has taken legal recourse in all cases and government lawyers have been showing up for all hearings.
The fact that these cases are playing out themselves so slowly is perhaps exposing the flaws in our judicial system, but to put the fault for that at Zardari’s feet would be unfair. He did not put the clause for presidential immunity in the constitution and neither is he responsible if their is no statute of limitations on case durations which guarantees swift dispensation of justice.
There is no doubt that he is very unpopular and a lot of people would like to see him out of the presidency. I hate it to break it to these people, but the constitution does not accept that as valid grounds for dismissal of the government. If the government is to be brought down, there are many constitutional options available. Unfortunately none of them involve street protests, unsubstantiated allegations or gutter language.
It is said that leaders obsess about the legacy they leave. If that is true for Zardari, he can rest assured that there will be some positives in that legacy as well. While it is true that he may live in infamy for presiding over some tough times, he will forever be the pioneer of the politics of Zen in Pakistan. If future legislative bodies can cover the holes exposed by the executive-judiciary tussle of his era (for example the Presidential Immunity), the credit for that will partially have to go to Zardari as well for bringing those flaws to light. And if he can preside over a transparent, free and fair election in 2013, perhaps history will forgive all his faults.