Shaky in saddle

Asif Ali Zardari’s position as Pakistan’s president has become rather shaky. A supreme court ruling declaring unconstitutional an amnesty granted by former President General Pervez Musharraf to Zardari and other senior members of government in graft cases has opened the door for their possible prosecution for corruption.  Others in government who could find corruption cases being revived against them include Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar. The amnesty was part of a National Reconciliation Ordinance passed by the Musharraf government to enable former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto and her supporters to return to the country and contest in elections. It let 8,000 officials and politicians with corruption and murder charges off the hook. The supreme court ruling paves the way for all of them to be tried now. It is a welcome decision.

Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution so long as he is president. He will therefore do his utmost to remain in power. Demands for his stepping down on ‘moral grounds’ have been raised by the opposition. It is a matter of time before these gather momentum and turn into mass protests on the streets of Islamabad and other cities. It was popular protests over his sacking of supreme court judges that forced President Musharraf to step aside two years ago. And the possibility of history repeating itself in the case of Zardari cannot be ruled out. Zardari is unpopular in Pakistan. He hasn’t been able to shake himself free of the ‘Mr Ten Percent’ label. He is seen to be a ‘stooge’ of the United States too. A medley of divergent interests could come together to demand his resignation.

The supreme court ruling is a setback to the US. Washington is believed to have brokered the amnesty deal to facilitate Bhutto’s return to politics. The Obama administration has found Zardari to be an easy person to do business with and it is likely that it will be tempted to explore ways to shore up his position in the president’s saddle. It must avoid going down that road. There is no doubt that anti-Zardari protests would add to the turmoil in Pakistan, perhaps distracting attention from the ongoing military operations against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the border with Afghanistan. Still, it is for Pakistanis, not the Americans, to decide whether Zardari should remain at the helm.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry