Pakistani and Swiss prosecutors investigated Zardari on suspicion of money laundering. He is thought to have taken kickbacks on government procurement contracts, while serving as minister for foreign investment in his wife's cabinet. He was widely derided in Pakistan as "Mr. 10 percent."
Bhutto served twice as prime minister between 1988 and 1996 and was revered by her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the country's most powerful political party. Zardari, on the other hand, has never been particularly well liked in the PPP and was only grudgingly accepted as his wife's successor after she died. The PPP now has the largest number of seats in parliament. Bhutto's widower now writes on the party's banners that "democracy is the best revenge."
Breaking Election Promises
Revenge, in general, seems to be particularly important to Zardari. He prevented the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and 60 other members of the judiciary whom Pervez Musharraf removed from office in an attempt to hold onto power. By failing to reinstate them Zardari broke his most important election promise and this is what caused his alliance with long-standing rival Nawaz Sharif to collapse. They formed a coalition government after the election in February but it failed to survive the first crisis. There is too much that these two rivals compete about and too much that devides them.
Zardari has shown himself to be as untrustworthy as ever. If there was not enough support for his candidacy in the party, then he had considering getting his sister, Faryal Talpur, who has a seat in parliament for the PPP, to run for the presidency in his place. This way the job would stay in the family. However, it now looks as if Zardari, despite everything, wants to be the PPP candidate himself. On Saturday Pakistan's Election Commission announced that he would be one of three candidates for the Sept. 6 vote by lawmakers.
If he wins the presidency, then he is likely to continue pulling the strings until his son Bilawal, 19 and currently a student at Oxford, can or must take over as leader of the PPP.
It is no accident that the coalition government broke up over the reinstatement of judges. Zardari doesn't like them. For years he was kept in prison without having been convicted of an offense. In Zardari's eyes Chief Justice Chaudhry, whose popularity ratings shot up when he was removed from office, constitutes a threat. Musharraf saw to it that charges of corruption against figures like Bhutto and her husband were dropped. Were Chaudhry to be reinstated he would very probably start up these investigations again. The good times would quickly be over for Zardari.
This is what Nawaz Sharif, 58, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, is hoping to see. Balding and with a Buddha-like smile, the industrialist from Punjab Province was allowed to return from exile last fall after spending seven years in Saudi Arabia. In 1998, while serving as prime minister, he appointed Pervez Musharraf to the position of army chief, thinking that the general wouldn't be a threat to him politically. A year later Musharraf toppled Sharif's government in a dramatic but bloodless coup.
Bhutto and Sharif were bitter adversaries, who replaced each other as prime minister. Their rivalry was particularly personal. General Zia ul-Haq, who ordered the execution of Bhutto's father (also a former prime minister) in 1979, was Sharif's political mentor.
Sharif withdrew from the coalition government last week and now, like Zardari, he is looking for allies among the smaller parties with a view to winning the presidential election. His party has nominated retired justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui to replace Musharraf as president. Sharif, too, is seeking revenge -- on Zardari.
Sharif was not a good prime minister and anything but a good democrat. He formed an alliance with religious conservatives and even claimed he wanted to introduce Sharia law. Now he is a passionate defender of the secular rule of law. And this is going down well. Apparently many Pakistanis have forgotten that people danced in the streets nearly eight years ago when Sharif was forced to leave the country after having so badly mismanaged it.
And what about Pervez Musharraf -- the man who made it possible for Bhutto and Sharif to return? He had to step down as president to avoid the embarrassment of impeachment proceedings. He has built a new house in Islamabad and would like to be able to remain in Pakistan as a retiree from political life. However, there are rumors that he is planning a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia or a trip to Turkey from which he would then not return. He has plenty of enemies who have a score or two to settle with him and would like to see him dragged into court. With that in mind, going into exile would definitely be the lesser of two evils for him.
"Bye-bye Pakistan," Musharraf said at the end of his dramatic resignation speech on Aug. 18 and clenched his fists as if in pain.
It is almost as if Pakistan is going through a collective experience of déjà vu. Musharraf, the Bhutto clan, Sharif -- the exact same figures as in the 1990s. Only the roles are different. Those who were at the top yesterday are at the bottom today and vice versa.
The country has so many problems one hardly knows where to begin. Food prices are exploding while about a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. The influence of the Taliban is growing dramatically in the northwest and in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Suicide bomb attacks are an almost daily occurrence.
Who is going to conduct the war against terrorism in the future? This is a question the US government is also asking, given that it had built a strong relationship with Musharraf.
The real power in the country continues to be the army. Its new chief of staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has connections in all directions. He completed part of his military training at Fort Leavenworth in the United States and was Benazir Bhutto's military adviser. Musharraf trusted Kayani right up to the last, appointing him Director General of the notoriously powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in October 2004 and Chief of Army Staff in November 2007.
A quiet man who rolls his own cigarettes and plays a good game of golf, Kayani has not yet displayed any ambitions to fill the political vacuum that has arisen. He has made it known that it is his view that the extremists must be "decisively defeated" and that it is the task of the military to do this. He also takes the view that the military should stop meddling in matters of government. He says he would like to restore the good reputation the Pakistani armed forces used to have in this respect.
CIA agents recently provided proof that the ISI has been working together with militant extremists and was involved in the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7 in which 58 people were killed and more than 140 injured.
Things don't look very good for us, an American officer commented with reference to the situation on either side of the border. Zardari is seeking allies among the conservative religious groups and the Pashtun parties in this troubled region in order to build another government. If he succeeds, how would he, in his capacity as president, be able to take effective military action against extremists, without being considered a puppet of the West who is fighting the Americans' war for them -- like Musharraf did?
Zardari and Sharif are continuing to play their power game. Last time the army chief stepped in and put an end to the circus -- by staging a coup.
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