Asif Ali Zardari has been elected to one of the toughest jobs in the world. As President of Pakistan, he is in charge of a country that has a central role in tackling the sources of global terrorism, yet is badly divided on how to go about it, or even if it must. Large swathes of territory have been taken over by the Taliban, a force that Pakistani officials are now beginning to acknowledge is the “other face of Al Qaeda”. For his survival in office, as that of the government led by his Pakistan People’s Party, Mr. Zardari must negotiate with the military that has a tradition of producing generals who chafe against civilian leadership and one that seems undecided whether it should perceive militancy as a national threat or continue to retain jihadists as a shadow instrument of foreign policy in the region. The inherent instability of the system has triggered a serious economic crisis that only a foreign bail-out can end. Pakistan has never been more in need of a leader with the right blend of political capabilities, sagacity, and statesmanship. The PPP is Pakistan’s most progressive party and has made unsurpassed sacrifices in the interests of democracy. Two of its biggest leaders, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir, were killed in the process. But its record in government is poor.
The PPP’s two terms in power under Benazir were synonymous with corruption and cronyism, for which much of the blame was laid at the door of her husband, Mr. Zardari, though the charges were never proved in a court. Catapulted to the presidency through part-circumstance, beginning with the December 2007 killing of Benazir and his inheritance of the party leadership, and part-political skill, Mr. Zardari must show he can live down his unsavoury image and give the country the good leadership it needs. It is clear that despite what the PPP says about the supremacy of Parliament, Mr. Zardari, in the double role of President and party leader, will call the shots. With the Prime Minister from the same party, that is not a cause for worry. For political stability, it is essential that the PPP does not let bitterness and hostility develop with the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif. The ascendance of Mr. Zardari could see a new phase in relations between India and Pakistan. Several times he has articulated a vision that is focussed on building bridges with India through trade and economic ties, setting aside the traditional “Kashmir first” rhetoric. With a problem on its hands in Kashmir, India will welcome a Pakistani leadership that does not add fuel to the fire and is demonstrably able to overcome all internal opposition to an agenda for peace.
6 months ago