However great ‘reservations’ people may have about Zardari, the phrase ‘giving the devil his due’ may help in painting him in less pale light. But because of him the Pakistan Peoples Party would have become irrelevant, marginalized and radicalized after it was most wantonly deprived of its highly charismatic leader. He let the establishment wallow in the success of its weird grand design by not shying away from seeming to cooperate with it and annoying party’s sympathisers, but what he succeeded in accomplishing in the bargain is not mean achievement by any standard.
From the perspective of the establishment, Benazir’s murder was the final nail in the coffin of a party which kept on harrowingly bouncing back. After installing Zardari, a craftly maligned figure by the establishment itself in the past, the demise of the party was considered complete. Time to celebrate was at hand because nothing is more devastating for a political party than a tainted incumbent leader. It was left to time, media and judiciary to do the rest. A master stroke. Wrestling full control and initiative to be able to steer the country out of troubled water was unthinkable for a handicapped person like Zardari.
The establishment saw to that. It had good of both the worlds. Ensuring firm hold on its vital interest, it pushed Zardari into the tricky maze of very complicated and chronic issues to perish in an effort to find his way out. Shahen Sehbai, one of his committed detractors, also wrote a column on hopeless situation Zardari found himself in. He requested the army chief to impose martial law for just one year to tackle mare’s nest using self assumed absolute powers the dictators are wont to wield and then hand over the reins back to civil rule. A fancy thought. People who blame him for not having done anything for a common man forget that a house in threatening disarray is not suited to advancement of individuals’ interests.
To thwart existential threat putting the house in order takes priority over everything else. That is what he exactly did. Put the house in order. Constitution was in tatters, provinces hoarsely crying foul, and trampled sovereignty in Swat demanded his full attention and got nothing less. What is being taken for granted now at the end of Pakistan People Party term looked nightmarish then. Herculean perseverance was demonstrated by the party to remain focused on restructuring and engulfing extremism, despite media onslaught, judiciary’s whims and restive military establishment.
Lo and behold, we are at least out of woods, if not in seventh heaven. To arrest extremism the counter narrative is gaining ground, restructuring has strengthened faltering democracy and the military establishment is much more inclined to play ball with the civilians. Pakistan Peoples Party’s defeat was a foregone conclusion, but it is not too big a price to pay for what it set about to bring about. Incumbency factor takes its toll, more so in third world countries where illiterate masses, not being cognizant of the magnitude of the task, get disillusioned soon. Though the party is badly embattled, it is not down and out. Far from that. It is mere wishful thinking that it has been reduced to a provincial entity. It is not just a political party, it is a culture.