By Waqas Habib
How would you all feel if I make a claim that Asif Ali Zardari was the one and the only real President in the history of Pakistan? I am sure that I have your attention after this making what Pakistani media would call, an “outrageous” claim.
During the past 66 years, most of the Heads of the State (Presidents as well as Prime Ministers) have been autocratic in nature. Once in power, they have tried to consolidate their hold by concentrating most of the authority in their hands. Even so called democratic rulers have not proven to be the exception. Let’s not forget Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, arguably the most popular leader, ruled with an iron fist and accumulated almost all the powers in his hand. Likewise, Nawaz Sharif, during his second stint ( 1997-1999) did the same. When, democratically elected leaders have behaved like dictators then there is not much to expect from actual military rulers which have run this country for almost half of the period since independence.
What have we lacked in our “democratic setup” for the last 66 years? I say democracy! Now how would you all feel if I say Asif Ali Zardari brought true spirit of democracy to our so called democratic setup? And this is not a hollow statement. The fact is that Zardari remains the only President in history who voluntary gave up his powers when he relinquished authority vested in him under the Eight Amendment. Democracy after all is not merely having elections. Democracy is also tested by the way leaders conduct themselves when they have the office.
In my opinion, Pakistan due to Zardari cuts a much better example compared to countries like Egypt. Recently, the world witnessed so called “Arab Spring” in which some autocracies like Egypt made a move towards democratic rule. However after assuming power, President Morsi tried to adopt an approach no different, in fact worse, than his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The day democratically elected Egypt’s President Morsi was taken into custody after an army coup, some of my Egyptian friends were very happy. It was that exact moment when I felt proud of being a citizen of Pakistan.
History will tell elections held on May 11, 2013 were a significant milestone in Pakistan’s democracy. That was the day when first time in the history of Pakistan an elected government completed its five year term in power and presented itself to the people of Pakistan for accountability. Verdict came as a resounding vote of “No Confidence” on government’s performance. Yes it is true that his party, PPP was given a thrashing in the 2013 elections which in some way was also a referendum on his rule. While Zardari may not have won immediate approval of the people, let us not overlook the fact that he made possible the smooth transition of power. For the first time, an elected government left through democratic means for another.
The election were by and large fair and incompetency of PPP government was duly punished as even the sitting PM ( Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ) lost his seat. Yes there were mistakes in governance but frankly governing Pakistan is not an easy task. And this is a fact, many of you must have understood by simply observing the performance of the party in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All the slogans of “Naya Pakistan” have materialized into nothing and due to dismal performance the party is in huge problem. Right now it’s only concern is to simply keep its government intact.
To value Asif Ali Zardari’s contribution, we must first value democracy. As they say: ” The worst of democracy is better than the best of dictatorship”. Let’s not forget, we all hate it when someone else has TV’s remote and they decide what is good to watch. We need unity more than we have ever needed it before, we must trust in democratic system as the way forward to a progressive and peaceful Pakistan.
Mr. President I appreciate all that you have done for democracy.