Shaheen Sehbai is a Pakistani journalist and the current Group Editor of daily English newspaper The News International. He has also worked as a reporter for the Dawn newspaper in Washington D.C. and then later was became the editor for The News International in Islamabad. But, he was forced to resign the post because of some ‘mysterious activities’. However, recently he was again the made the Group Editor (senior most editor) of The News.
On February 16, 2002, Sehbai let a story run that “exposed” government Pakistani ties with terrorist bombings in India (a story that also ran in The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune by the work of the reporter, not Sehbai). The government immediately stopped its advertisements in The News International, and put inordinate pressure on the company to fire those involved in the creation and publishing of the story.
After the February 16th article, though, the government forced Sehbai to resign through immense financial pressure on The News International, and Sehbai was later accused of Arm Robbery by an employee of the Pakistan army headquarters. He eventually left for the United States, an expatriate out of disgust for the Musharraf government.
Mr. Sehbai returned to America and started a web based newspaper, The South Asian Tribune in which he reported many cases of allegedly “government and military corruption” under Pakistan’s Musharraf administration. Obviously he became bitter towards Musharraf because of Musharraf’s tough stance on war on terror and also because Musharraf had decided to weaken ties between ISI and Jihadis/Talibans. In 2005, Sehbai, announced that he was closing The South Asian Tribune after three years of service.
Recent anti-democracy activities
Invitation to the Army Chief General Kayani to intervene in politics
In his highly controversial article in Daily The News on 1 September 2008, Shaheen Sehbai states that the very fact that Asif Zardari is about to become the head of the state of Pakistan proves how big a mess Musharraf made. He says thus it is the army’s duty to fix it as the political parties certainly are not capable of doing it. “Risking the charge that will instantly be thrown at me that I am inviting the Army to intervene again”, he offers a seven-step plan for General Kiyani. Is Sehbai out of his mind or does he have a valid point?
How to clean up the bloody mess
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 (The News)
By Shaheen Sehbai
KARACHI: The sudden prospect of Asif Ali Zardari sitting on the most powerful and sensitive political hot seat in the country has shaken everybody. There is a greater sense of uncertainty in the political class as well as the civil and military establishment, although the presidential election should have removed the clouds of doubt hanging over the political scene.
Yet no one has any clue how to handle this situation as Mr Zardari has an absolute right to contest for and claim that hot seat, his controversial past and spotted career notwithstanding. But stepping back a little and trying to get an overview of the situation, two facts should become crystal clear about who is responsible for this mess and who is being asked to clean it.
No one can deny that Gen Pervez Musharraf’s nearly nine years rule, or misrule, landed the country in the political turmoil that we are facing. During this period political parties and leaders were hounded, persecuted, terrorised, exiled, abused and deprived of their genuine rights. Musharraf played havoc with the system, it is obvious.
Political parties and leaders were on the run in exile, never being allowed to settle down, organise or prepare for taking over the state responsibilities. As an individual Mr Zardari was the last person expected to climb the political ladder so fast that within eight months of Benazir’s assassination, he is now poised to be the country’s head of state, master of the nuclear button and supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan.
In short, the leaders and parties are not prepared, or capable, of handling this mess. It would, in fact, be unfair and totally unjustified to expect them to clear the nine-year year old backlog, in less than nine months. Basically, though, the responsibility of correcting the situation is on the elected representatives who should chalk out a plan, call an all-party conference, invite the Army leadership to reach a consensus or whatever, but they seem either not interested or not too involved in petty politicking.
So then who should do it? After the politicians, in all fairness, it is the prime responsibility of the Pakistan Army, which under Gen Musharraf created this situation and which should now undo the wrongs that Musharraf perpetrated for years. When Musharraf decided to quit as Army chief, he did not, and could not, absolve the rest of the Army generals from the blame they must share.
Just by walking away under the pretext of “neutrality” and protecting their ex-commander by giving him a Guard of Honour, as if he was leaving after performing tremendous feats for Pakistan, the generals who collaborated with Musharraf cannot get away from their national duty and responsibility to undo the wrongs.
But Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has walked away from everything and the poor politicians, led by Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, have been left with the dirty task of sweeping the stables and washing the left over dirty linen.
It would have been fair for the Army after Musharraf had quit to undo his decisions, all taken to prolong his own power, so that the politicians had a clean slate to start their innings. That did not happen and now we are left with the prospect of a massively intricate political situation, with no one having a clue how to untangle it.
Still it would be a right thing if the Army decided to correct the situation even now, unless they do not want to take the heat to a point in a few months when the generals will be sucked in, walking in like saviours to save the situation, like it has been happening in the past.
Honesty and sincerity demands that the present Army generals put in their bit to help correct the distortions left over by Musharraf. They are the ones with guns to implement decisions. This time their efforts would be in the interest of Pakistan, as against using that power to perpetrate the interests of one man, one general or one junta.
Risking the charge that will instantly be thrown at me that I am inviting the Army to intervene again, like the PFUJ secretary-general Mazhar Abbas did rather unjustifiably after my last article, I am prepared to offer the following sequence of steps that the Army must take before the politicians are handed over the full reins of the country, the presidency and the Prime Minister house included:
1) Since Gen Musharraf had imposed an emergency on Nov 3, as COAS, to suspend the Constitution, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani should find a way to undo all that was wrongfully done. It is his responsibility.
2) Kayani should use his influence to restore the judges to the Nov 2 position, because Musharraf threw them out fearing a judgment against him and as the politicians would never be able to reach a consensus in view of their own insecurities and vulnerabilities. It is also a known fact that Gen Kayani did not appear in the Supreme Court to give testimony against the deposed chief justice when the Supreme Court was hearing the case before July 20, 2007. It has been reported, and not denied, that Kayani was against the sacking of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry when he was ISI director-general.
3) He should get the NRO repealed to revert the white-washing of thousands of alleged criminals, mostly those who had struck deals with Musharraf, or whose support Musharraf needed to prolong his rule. These people should be made to face normal process of law and clear themselves, as Asif Ali Zardari had done in almost all of his cases. I still cannot figure out why he had to get himself tainted with the NRO when he had been cleared by the courts any way.
4) Kayani should cancel all the secret deals that Musharraf had made with politicians or foreign powers as these deals are not binding international agreements signed between governments. Gen Kayani or his Army is not supposed to be bound by them.
5) He should persuade others to set up a National Accountability Commission, with men of undisputed credibility, strength of character and certified competence so that all the corruption cases, past, present and future, are sent to it and anyone cleared by it is genuinely considered an honest and clean person. At present the NRO has cast more doubts on its beneficiaries than helping clear their image.
6) While all the politicians, bureaucrats and others are made to appear before this commission, Gen Musharraf must also be brought before it and made to face the charges, instead of providing him a blanket amnesty.
7) When Army power can be used to thrust a one man rule and perpetuate his interests, why can’t Army power be used to undo the wrongs for which the entire institution of the army is facing the blame and Kayani has been forced to push it into the background.
Let the power of the guns and barrels be used, for a change, in the interest of the nation and the people. It is obvious that the politicians cannot clean the dirt as they are neither visionaries, nor that tall, nor experienced, nor prepared nor motivated to look beyond their noses. But the unfortunate thing is that this is the crop of politicians we have and this is what we have to work with. Neutrality is a very pious concept but after throwing all the mud and muck in the political pond, standing on the side as neutral observers would only be a poetic injustice to the nation.
Comments by some ordinary Pakistanis
September 2nd, 2008 at 1:37 am
a reply in words will strengthen his agenda, only actions can turn upside down this agenda.
September 2nd, 2008 at 1:38 am
Do not expect any ‘cleaning up’ by this current General junta as they were part of every crime Mush done in Pakistan. This is the same shameless Generals who gave Mush a guard-of-honer last month when he finally departed!!! These are the same shameless generals who are protecting Mush in the Army House (Rawalpindi) currently.
Shame on them!!
September 2nd, 2008 at 2:30 am
Is Shaheen Sehbai the new “media trouble maker’ in making? After Dr. Shahid has been bought and Hamid Mir partially compromised towards PPP, we need brave ones like SS and Ansar Alam. Even Bolta Pakistan duo is not agressive as they used to be…
September 2nd, 2008 at 3:28 am
Extremely shameful articles by Shaheen Sehbai. He is asking for a new Martial Law. What a shame. This person has gone nuts.
It seems that Americans are very frustrated right now. They have started a vicious war against the newly elected government. It seems that Pakistan Army and Zardari have agreed to change Mush’s policy og blindly toeing American line.
At this point Zardari has an unprecedented support from parliament, all four federating units, army and courts. It seems some elements in establishment in US and Pakistan hate to see Pakistan’s elected government taking hold of internal and external affairs.
Shaheen Sehbai proves to be a complete idiot by inviting another coup.
September 2nd, 2008 at 7:58 am
The chief commander has hit the establishment where it pains most. Now they (establishment) is back with vengenance, I am just so thrilled by this battle , this time they (establishment) are going to face the biggest chanllenge of their life. There is a real panic in the establishment this time , which is evident from every single establishment paid writer/anchor.
It is interesting to read/hear the establishment guys at every level , Shahin Sehbai off course has his own class , his two articles articulated very well how much establishment is afraid of President Zardari, there are certain low level establishment stooges like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi which are much more straight forward in their thoughts.
Establishment’s new solgan is
“Pakistan ka khuda hafiz”
I honestly can not wait for 6th of September. This would indeed be a historical day in the Pakistan. Day by day my confidence in Zardari is strengthening , the more creates the panic in establishment , the better it is for the nation. Aah.. how much I wish that once we see a decisive battle.
Battle is on comrades…
Raqs-e-may taiz karoo saaz kee lay taiz karoo
soo-e-mekhana safeeran-e-haram aatay hain
September 2nd, 2008 at 8:12 am
I strongly disagree with the column. The only thing Army should do is to be a professional Army and be away from Politics. Rest of the things will be okay with time. It might take long but we do not want Army to involve in non-professional activities, even how good they are…
September 2nd, 2008 at 8:48 am
I would have agreed with Shaheen Sehbai, IF all of the acts that he has recommended for Gen Kayani would have been done when Kayani was appointed and when Musharraf was the President. It would have been quite legal and constitutional. At this moment in time when the elections have taken place, an elected government is in power, he has no right and he should not intervene. It is true that PPP has been a disappointment and Zardari a man of double talk and maybe not a good option for the country BUT (and a big BUT) it is a fact that this is an elected government. Let only the people have the right to throw it out. This is the falut we have always been making, egging on the generals to clean the political mess and expecting them to put everything right and serve in a plate to us distributing sweets when they topple over a government. For once, let them do their work and let US be the judge of the politicians. Its true that it is a long and tedious process, it will take decades to cleanse the political parties of the scum that has accumulated but this is the only way – to let the system run and to slowly cleanse itself. For example, with the recent double talk of PPP, I don’t see many people (even the die hard jialas)supporting them blinding in next elections. In these few months time, we can count the good politicians on fingers from all the parties. Slowly we can vote them out. MOreover, a nation deserves its leaders. I mean how can we expect angels when we ourselves are not even good citizens.
In Pakistan the involvement of the generals always reminds me of Lord of the Rings. “The ring of power has a will of its own”. Whenever a general comes, he comes with the “good intention” of setting the system right but then the ring of power takes hold of him. Remember the speeches of General Zia, Musharraf etc. Zia categorically said that his intention was only to conduct the elections and hand over the government to elected parliament and look how long he stayed -11 years. Absolute power corrupts.
September 2nd, 2008 at 9:19 am
@It seems some elements in establishment in US and Pakistan hate to see Pakistan
September 2nd, 2008 at 10:02 am
Although i am very anti PPP of what they have done to the country (and to their coalition partners) in a very short time, i still think PPP should be given the full chance to govern the country for rest of 4.5 years
September 2nd, 2008 at 11:20 am
I’m anti-PPP but what the columnist is proposing is dangerous. Let the politicians decide what to/not to do. The Generals better keep away.
moaziz syed Says:
September 2nd, 2008 at 4:59 pm
Now that politicians, for the time being atleast , are refraining from knocking at GHQ door, a journalist of the level of SS have chosen to play the ‘Establishment’. His hatered for Zardari is welcome: I don’t like him either. But I don’t like Army to meddle in politics, inspite of my Army back ground. I liked Musharraf as a soldier. But I hated him as a userper of political power. Now will some body hold me responsible for what Mush did just because I have been a soldier. How Kiani becomes responsible of what Mush did or what politicians are doing(or not doing)after him. I am shocked at SS’s suggestion that Army should use power of gun to clear the ‘mess’. What happened to our cry of democracy. If Zardari is a traitor or untrustworthy than what about his accomplices like Altaf Hussain, Molana Fazlur Rehman, Asfand Yar, Raisani and even NS till recently. Are they not people’s reps. Are they all anti Pakistan or fools to support Zardari ? Have a heart SS. You are not the whole of Pakistan. I am Punjabi but even Punjab is not whole of Pakistan( and whole of Punjab is not anti Zatrdari)Let’s show patience and tolerance,Zardari cannot bacome dictator or sellout Pakistan in the presence of other so many leaders. Let’s trust our people, our constitution. If we can get rid of one dictator we can do another, but no Army please for politics.
Munir Solangi Says:
September 2nd, 2008 at 7:17 pm
Shaheen Sehbai is clearly inviting Army to impose martial law.I think PPP,PML-N and JI will not support Shaheen Sehbai,only Imran Khan and Chuadhry Shujaat will support this idea.Now difference is there.Nusrat Javeed and Hamid Mir belives in democracy,they were banned by a dictator and they are still facing problems,Why this Sehbai is not facing any problem?Yes because he is very thick with ISI.I think Zardari should immediately fire DG ISI and Kyani after becoming President.
September 2nd, 2008 at 8:34 pm
As I keep on repeating, I will prefer AZ hundred times more than to see these FA second divisioner napak generals climbing over the walls of PTV. Any one supporting this action on one pretext or another, will never get my support and you know who I am “bechari-awam”
September 2nd, 2008 at 11:34 pm
A VERY important point that Zardari-haters continue to ignore in SS’s article: He is clearly implying that Zardari has been cleared of all court cases after a rigorous witchhunt and that now is time to nab the hundreds others (including perhaps this forum’s favorite ‘leader’ NS!) by abolishing NRO.
PS. SS has gone nuts! Firstly, if the military is dis-engaging itself it is precisely because they have left Pakistan in such a mess that it is nearly impossible to ‘fix’ matters–so let the bloody civilians pickup the pieces, a la 1971. Secondly, Army is disengaging from politics to do some damage-control of its own ‘image’. Why would Kiani be stupid to involve himself now?
September 3rd, 2008 at 4:35 am
A good dictator is better than any democracry, but a worst democaracy is 1000 times better than worst dictatorship.
Think about the trade-off involved. Are we in a position to take any further risks?
West is opposing Zardari alongwith the real establishment. This shows that it is in the interest of common populace of Pakistan to have Zardari at the helm of affairs.
September 3rd, 2008 at 9:03 am
I was also one of the readers of of SS from his old days. I always found it odd of how he closed up his weekly newspaper. Everybody has a price and sadly, it led many of us in the DC area to believe he was bought. I have lost all confidence in SS and his like.
Recently I was reading that Zardari is promising affordable housing in the Islamabad area for journalists. Now come on, how can these “journalists” be fair? This is just another form of censorship.
I have lost all confidence in news coming out of Pakistan and that is primarily due to the biased reported from “journalists”.
September 3rd, 2008 at 11:22 am
Shaheen Sehbai has gone nuts…i hate zardari but any person even worse than zardari still 1000 times better than any army pig…
The Daily Noose (Interview with Shaheen Sehbai)
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 18, 2002
Exposing the Pakistani establishment’s links with terrorists can be a hazardous job. It cost Daniel Pearl his life, and Shaheen Sehbai, former editor of ‘The News’, a widely-read English daily in Pakistan his job. Fearing for his life, Sehbai is now in the US He speaks to Shobha John about the pressure on journalists from the powers-that-be in Pakistan:
Q. Is it true you had to quit because a news report angered the government?
A. On February 16, our Karachi reporter, Kamran Khan, filed a story quoting Omar Sheikh as saying that he was behind the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, the Kashmir assembly attack and other terrorist acts in India. Shortly after I am, I got a call on my cellphone from Ashfaq Gondal, the principal information officer of the government, telling me that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had intercepted the story and I should stop its publication.
I told him I was not prepared to do so. He then called my newspaper group owner/editor-in-chief, Mir Shakil ur Rehman in London and asked him to stop the story. Rehman stopped it in the Jang, the sister newspaper in Urdu but could not do so in The News as I was unavailable.
The next day, all editions of The News carried the story. It was also carried by The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune the same day, as Kamran also reports for The Post. On February 18, all government advertising for the entire group was stopped.
On February 22, Rehman rushed to Karachi and called a meeting at 10 p m. He told me the government was “very angry” at the story. He said he had been told to sack four journalists, including myself, if the ads were to be restored. He asked me to proceed to Islamabad to pacify the officials. Sham informed us that he had contacted the officials and was told by Anwar Mahmood, the information secretary that “the matter was now beyond his capacity and we will have to see the ISI high-ups to resolve it”. I was told to go and see the ISI chief in Islamabad and also to call Anwar Mahmood on Eid and improve my ‘public relations’ with him.
I left the meeting with the firm resolve that I would neither call nor meet anyone, even at gunpoint. Sham, however, left for Islamabad to meet the officials. His meetings were unsuccessful. From my sources, I learned that the ISI and the government were not prepared to lift the ban unless I gave them specific assurances. If I refused, there may be trouble for me as the owner was already under pressure to fire me and the other three journalists.
On February 27, I took a flight out of Karachi to New York. On February 28, I received a memo from my owner accusing me of policy violations. In reply, on March 1, I sent in my resignation.
Q. Is the ISI still keeping a close watch on journalists after Daniel Pearl’s killing?
A. The ISI has been a major player in domestic politics and continues to be so. That means it has to control the media and right now, it is actively involved in doing so. Pearl’s murder has given them more reasons to activate the national interest excuse.
Q. Is there a sense of desperation within the Pakistan government that it should not be linked in any way to events in India?
A. Yes. That’s why when our story quoted Omar Sheikh claiming such links, the government came down hard on us.
Q. Has there been any pressure on the staff of ‘The News’ to ‘conform’?
A. Yes. The News was under constant pressure to stop its aggressive reporting on the corruption of the present government. A few months back, Pakistan International Airlines stopped all ads to The News as we ran a couple of exposes. A major story on the government owned United Bank was blocked when we sought the official version. Intelligence agencies were deputed to tail our reporters in Islamabad.
Q. This is not the first time you and your family have been under pressure, is it?
A. I have been the target of physical attacks in the past too for stories against the government. The first was in August 1990 when I was arrested and detained for 36 hours and falsely charged for drinking, before a judge gave bail. The second time, in December 1991, three masked men broke into my house in Islamabad, ransacked it, pulled guns on my two sons, beat them up and told them, “Tell your father to write against the government again and see what happens”. In 1995, I was threatened once again and I had to take my entire family away. My newspaper then, Dawn, decided to post me to Washington as their correspondent. This time, I feared that I could be physically targeted again. So I decided to leave the country.
Q. Is the present regime in Pakistan any different from earlier ones with regard to freedom of the press?
A. It has tolerated some freedom under foreign pressure, but the situation is basically the same. Now Musharraf appears to be under pressure to manage the media more effectively in order to manage the October elections and get his supporters elected in the polls. He needs to legitimise his military rule through a political process, which essentially is being rigged from the beginning.
Q. Is your case the first instance of a crackdown on the media by this government?
A. This was the first case of a major financial squeeze on the country’s largest media group. It was followed by demands to sack me and other senior journalists and then to change the policy.
Q. How independent will the forthcoming polls be now?
A. They will be as independent as the recently-concluded local bodies polls in which candidates were named by the army and no one else was allowed to win. Candidates for state and national assemblies are now being pre-selected and influential politicians are being pressured, lured or coerced to join Musharrafs supporters.
Q. What is the mood within the Pakistani media?
A. The media is generally quiet and has fallen in line because Musharraf is getting strong support from the US and the West. But elements in the media are very resolute and they will fight back as soon as they see Musharraf losing his grip. The October polls will determine the role of the media as well because if Musharraf fails to ‘manage’ the elections, his control over the media will be finished.
Q. What do you propose to do now?
A. I will be writing out of Washington for some time and will return to Pakistan around the October polls. My days in Pakistan were very exciting as I maintained a completely independent editorial policy and pursued it to the last day. In the memos written by the owner, he repeatedly complains that I was not consulting him on policies. I had no need to, as he watches his own commercial interests.
The person who filed the complaint with the Rawalpindi police on 21 August is Khalid Hijazi, an employee of the army headquarters who is the former husband of a cousin of Sehbai. The complaint alleges that Sehbai carried out an “armed robbery” in his home on 22 February 2001.
Sehbai left Pakistan in March 2002 after resigning as editor with the English-language daily newspaper The News.
Zardari given enough rope to hang himself
Friday, December 26, 2008
Bearing Justice Iftikhar ill will was unwise; taking Justice Dogar under his wings was counter-productive; PPP ranks are ill at ease; attempt to work on Army will prove last straw
By Shaheen Sehbai
WASHINGTON: The one question that I am repeatedly asked by everyone, believing that I have been quite close to Asif Ali Zardari during his days of self-exile and forced expulsion from politics for many years, is how long he and his government will survive.
It is hard to answer this very loaded and complex question almost on a daily basis, especially when people think everyone who comes to Washington from Pakistan knows something more than they do. So I have decided to pen down my answer.
My considered opinion is that the present Zardari-led set-up will not last long as it has been structured on a wrong and distorted political premise as result of which the key players who have emerged as main power wielders were never in the picture, neither of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, which actually got the votes and won the seats in the February 18 elections, nor anyone else. And these new players have failed to establish their political legitimacy and moral authority through their actions after coming to power.
These power players do not have any political ideology, they do not believe in the established principles of democracy and parliamentary process enshrined in the constitution and most important of all, they do not have a following among the masses, which is necessary for any political government worth its name.
What has happened is that in extraordinary turbulent circumstances, the Zardari Group of the PPP has taken over the party, out-manoeuvring the others through opportunities created by circumstances followed up cleverly by a web of deceit, chicanery and in some specific cases simple lies and cheating. Taking full advantage, Zardari formed a group of his cronies who had nothing to do with the PPP or its politics for years. Who could imagine that Rehman Malik, Farooq Naek, Babar Awan, Salman Farooqi, Husain Haqqani, Hussain Haroon, Dr Asim, Dr Soomro, Riaz Laljee, Siraj Shamsuddin, Zulfikar Mirza, Agha Siraj Durrani and many other smaller but tainted friends and associates of Mr Zardari would suddenly take over every important position and start calling the shots?
The above statements may seem bold, and to some, outrageous, but each one of these statements can be substantiated with specific and undeniable examples and proof. Of course Zardari and his cronies will deny this, screaming from every rooftop that he is genuine and represents the people’s will. But does, or will, anyone believe him?
To begin with, in the chaos that followed Benazir’s death, Asif Ali Zardari took over the party (PPP), the government, the parliament, the presidency and the judiciary. That was some achievement but the way he did it angered friends and foes alike. That is why he has been grappling with an enormous trust deficit, both domestically and abroad.
Has any prime minister who was elected unanimously or a president who secured a two-thirds majority ever looked so insecure that he had to repeatedly use questionable tactics to get his way through? Why is it that despite such strong support in parliament, he is working overtime every day to keep and tighten his hold on those state institutions not yet under his thumb — like the ISI, the Pakistan Army and some parts of the media?
His attempt to take over the ISI were foiled but he was asking for too much, too early. But given his nature, he will try again to control not just the ISI, but will also try to stuff the superior courts with Jiyala judges loyal to him and, if he gets the chance for which he will try his best, he will try to stuff the top Army hierarchy with his loyal generals.
This is where Mr Zardari will be stopped. That point may come as quickly as he tries to grab power. So in a way his own survival is in his own hands. But knowing Mr Zardari, I can predict he cannot stop himself. The unfortunate fact is that he cannot fathom what the judges movement has done to the body politic of the country and he cannot imagine what transformation the media has brought in the thinking of every man and woman in the country. He still lives in the ‘90s and cannot come out of that syndrome.
Step by step he has dismantled every pillar that Benazir Bhutto had painstakingly tried to build to strengthen politicians vis-a-vis the generals. In the many years that he was in New York, I never heard him discuss the Charter of Democracy or why the powers of the president should be cut. He would always discuss either some business deal or how he had outclassed other politicians in petty whimsical games. He never talked about any vision of a grand politically stable and strong Pakistan.
The illusion that he has become stronger than General Musharraf thus cannot make him a visionary overnight. As I know him, he is capable only to use these powers for his personal survival and security. But when an all-powerful Musharraf made mistakes, none of his powers could rescue him. Zardari has started by committing blunders.
He has survived so far because people expected a change and had to give him time. The safe window of opportunity that had opened up with the PPP victory was his safety valve, but for how long? He started when everyone wanted to give him time. Instead of building on that reservoir of sympathy, support and hope he has gone back on every promise he made publicly.
The 10 biggest blunders that will ultimately take him down can be listed as follows, though the full list may be too long:
1. Failure to show any enthusiasm to track down Benazir’s killers. The mysterious and tragic apathy shown by him towards her assassination is a sore in every heart. The top PPP leadership every evening sits in cosy drawing rooms and speaks in derisory language about what he is doing and how.
2. Failure to support the judiciary sacked by Musharraf and adopting a hostile attitude towards Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. He lost the chance to build grand support.
3. Unnecessary and grossly counter-productive support shown for Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.
4. Failure to make any move towards repealing the 17th Amendment and strengthening parliament. In fact, he has taken the system to a super-presidential model with a prime minister now cribbing regularly about his lack of powers.
5. Betraying his political coalition partners by refusing to follow the Charter of Democracy and cheating them with false promises.
6. Opening himself and his party to blackmail by smaller coalition parties to an extent that the entire government has become a hostage, thus unable to take any major initiative.
7. Boasting about his capacity to get economic and financial aid from the so-called friends of Pakistan, making repeated visits to world capitals and finally, opting for the most damaging and least acceptable option of going to the IMF, thus admitting failure.
8. Keeping petty political bickering alive in Punjab through a nonsensical presence of Governor Salman Taseer, a Musharraf appointee.
9. Turning into a widely disliked person in Pakistan within months by letting Musharraf go scot-free and adopting all his sins and drawbacks.
10. Humiliating and then forcing loyal PPP leaders into submission.
No one is yet ready to destabilise the current political set-up and Mr Zardari has been given a rope, in fact a longish rope, obviously to hang himself with. What worries me is that he has not proved himself competent to rise to the occasion, has shown no urge or capacity to grow into the huge shoes that he so suddenly finds himself in and somehow he does not envision the broader canvas of politics and lives with all the fears and insecurities of the era of the ‘90s and his days of captivity. Thus he is using the rope with intense energy to tie himself up in knots and form a noose around his neck.
If all the above answer the question how long will he last, the next universal question everybody asks is: how will he be removed as he has all the numbers?
This is an easy question to answer. By his acts Mr Zardari has not endeared himself to anyone in the 10 months of his rule. The initial honeymoon with the PML-N apart, now his own party is on the brink of imploding. December 27 will be a crucial date. How and on what issue the party cracks up is moot, but pressure from the opposition, a wink from the right quarters and one major blunder by Zardari is all it will take. It took an all-powerful Musharraf not even a few weeks to go down; Zardari is just learning the tricks to survive. After all the humiliation, what are BB loyalists like Aitzaz Ahsan doing in the PPP?