Former President Asif Ali Zardari’s eye lashes blocked the rolling out of his tears during his affirmation of weakness associated with the memories of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. He was deeply moved when Suhail Warrich, GEO TV programme Akhri Do Din with President Zardari Kay Sath, suddenly put up the question to him as how much he was feeling nostalgic for BB. His tears and the face expressions of those moments unfolded the whole truth reflecting the depth of his inner feelings about her passing away. His observance of silence for a while ‘begged all descriptions, which moved the people with him around the country. Admittedly, he was not alone who missed the great leader of her time. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bukhtawar Zardari and Aseefa Zardari missed her profoundly because BB was an adorable and caring mother who brought them up in the most inhospitable political environment.
Poor people of Pakistan missed her because they believed she was an answer to their prayers; women folk missed her because BB was committed to their empowerment; youth missed her because BB was a symbol of inspiration; the Parliament House missed her where she used to speak as an outstanding parliamentarians whether as a leader of the House or leader of the Opposition; world missed her because she used to address world forums getting standing ovations invariably because of her command over the subjects and inspirational speaking power, Pakistan missed her because she was a nation’s pride who represented the country in the finest form when interacting with the world leaders wearing Pakistani attire.
Her photograph holding baby Bilawal at the airport at the outset of her state visit to the USA as the prime minister of Pakistan, first elected prime minister of Muslim Ummah, was flashed by US media. Her speech in the US Congress preceded by standing ovation by the Congressmen were the proud moments for the people of Pakistan as their elected prime minister was shining as a star among the US Congress members who were spell bounded with exuberance. Thrilling representation of Pakistan was at its best, seeing was believing as the Capitol Hill’s ambiance was filled with long live Pakistan; long live democracy and long live Benazir Bhutto.
Asif Ali Zardari’s tears also calibrated the eternity of temporal separation of BB because of ‘her travel to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’. But her vision for Pakistan and democracy remained intimate to the former President all the way for which he rendered commendable services both as party leader and as president of Pakistan. The immediate test of his leadership surfaced after the assassination of Mohtarma, exploding the country with anarchic and chaotic situation because people’s protest in a state of anger and frustration right across the country brought the life to a grinding halt. Angry mobs were burning offices, suspension of train services, ransacking of public properties on horrendous scale, total shut down of business activity, thin traffic on busy roads and the national high ways, cancellation of internal flights and the country was totally paralyzed. At this critical juncture, Asif Ali Zardari came to the rescue of the federation when he vociferously appealed to the people in these words—Pakistan khappay, Pakista Khappay, long Live Pakistan, Long Live Pakistan. His appeal had the electrifying pacifying impact on people and the situation came under control sooner than later. He swiftly acted like an accomplished and patriot leader despite the epic tragedy inflicted to his life. Leaders are extraordinary people who set their sights on the cause worthy of becoming part of history for good. As such, untoward criticism by hawks and duplicitous characters, then at the helm of affairs, could not succeed in detracting him from pursuing the political philosophy of Mohtarma.
He subdued the enemies of Pakistan and the democracy during the difficult times while treading on the political trajectory of reconciliation as envisioned by Mohtarma. It is not difficult to imagine the enormity of damages to Pakistan if Asif Ali Zardari had ridden along the tide of vendetta at that time like a short-sighted and self-serving politician. These were the times of make or break, but he stood firmly for Pakistan. People of Pakistan are deeply indebted to him and this realization would further intensify in future!
As a committed follower of BB vision, Asif Ali Zardari also made it clear in no uncertain terms that elections would be held as per schedule in February 2008, and any conspiracy to postpone would be resolutely resisted because nation would not tolerate betrayal to the blood of Shaheed Benazir, who offered ultimate sacrifice for the cause of democracy. Asif Ali Zardari’s unflinching resolution to the democratic process denied the space to the opponents who were lurking in the shadow to ambush the political process— might be at the behest of internal or external enemies, or both at the same time. Elections were held in February 2008 and with that dawn of democracy was set in the country, giving comfort to the soul of Mohtarma.
Zardari’s tears were also synonymous to the heartiest expression of gratitude to Almighty God with humility Who blessed him with patience, perseverance and wisdom destined to complete the constitutional terms despite innumerable challenges from dawn to dust. This was a singular national honour because no other president completed the term throughout the political history of Pakistan. The culmination of democratic transition from one government to another government after elections was a jewel in the crown of democratic edifice of the country for which credit mainly goes to the former president. He also succeeded in rectifying the deformities incorporated by the successive dictators in the constitution of Pakistan. He harnessed requisite unanimous parliamentary support for the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. It restored the Constitution in its original form reflective of people’s aspirations. Prior to it, the Constitution was neither a presidential nor a parliamentary form of Constitution as unilateral amendments brought in by dictators to perpetuate their rules had disfigured it beyond recognition.
True to his conviction, Zardari also transferred his powers to Parliament at his own initiative, unusual step by any standard because politicians of all spectrums were prone to accumulating maximum powers and shedding of the same was an improbability in our political culture, in particular. The dark aspects of these presidential powers were their blatant use by heads of state that were instrumental to inflicting irreparable loss to democracy in Pakistan. These powers were used by the ex- presidents, civilians and military, to dismiss the democratic governments prematurely despite their majority in the respective assemblies. Asif Ali Zardari by handing over these powers to Parliament ensured a degree of continuity of the political process and also strengthened the democratic institution, Parliament, mother of all institutions and an icon of people’s empowerment. It was a joint leap forward in the promotion of democracy in the country and its continuity because now no president can sack the government by using the notorious powers vested in the office of the President under the constitutional provision of 58(2) b. It may be relevant to mention for the convenience and understanding of the majority of readers that Ziaul Haq, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Laghari, used these power to axed the democratic governments of Muhammad Khan Junejo, and twice of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
It is difficult to find a parallel of Zardari’s commitment to democratic ethos. For, Zardari’s decision to accept the results of May 2013 elections—despite his and other political leader’s reservations—emanated from his conviction in the indispensability of democracy for Pakistan. Party political vital interests can wait but democracy and its continuity cannot be put in the backburner was the spirit of the former president behind his endorsement of the election results held early this year. No more politicking for politics sake but politics for democracy’s sake seems to be his ideologically based mission.
Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir as visionary leaders firmly believed in the indispensability of democracy and the immortality of Pakistan. Asif Ali Zardari as an ardent follower of the political philosophy of both the popular leaders knew that his joining of the bandwagon of those clamouring of manipulation of mandate would have given enough impetus may well lead to the subversion of the democratic dispensation despite their good intentions—path to hell would have been paved notwithstanding their good intentions. He, therefore, announced his backing of the election results which in turn took the wind out of the sails of those who also wanted to capitalize on the resultant uncertainty under the banner of rigged elections.
He refused to take the bait and put vendetta far behind and preferred vision and decided to throw his political weight in favour of the continuity of the political process. His decision will be written in the history of Pakistan as catalyst to save democracy at a delicate stage of the country’s political history. His support in favour of democracy has qualitatively brightened up the prospects to complete the constitutional tenure by the incumbent government. It speaks volumes of his total sincerity which was eloquently exhibited when he unequivocally declared in his speech at the farewell lunch of the prime minister that PPP would support Mian Sahib to complete the constitutional term in the office, paving the way for more such democratic transitions with no disruption during all times to come. Democracy is indeed taking firm roots with every passing day in Pakistan will tantamount to paying handsome tributes to Mohtarma Benazir. Zardari is focused and pulling all strings of wisdom at his disposal to measure up to the mission— democratisation of the Pakistan free of even an iota of danger.
The author is a former federal information secretary