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Zardari, first year of his presidency

Column by: Ashfaq Rehmani


Email: pasrurmedia@hotmail.com

President Asif Ali Zardari spent at least 94 days out of the country on his foreign trips
during the first year of his presidency. The president who took oath on September 9 last
year spent almost every fourth day out of Pakistan, making more than 27 official,
business and private trips to almost every corner of the globe. He made five trips to UK,
four each to China and UAE, and two each to UN, Iran and Turkey, and one each to
Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Libya, France, Russia, Belgium and Tajikistan. The
full details of the expenses incurred on these trips is not yet known but the National
Assembly (NA) was informed on March 12 this year that President Zardari’s nine visits
abroad between September 2008 to March 2009 cost Rs 157.257 million to the national
exchequer. By that time he had visited the UK, the US, the UAE, China, Saudi Arabia,
Turkey and Afghanistan. The president’s entourage for the trips comprised 246 people.
The House was also told that the official delegation of Pakistan to the 63rd session of the
UN General Assembly, comprising 53 members, cost Rs 68,269,611 to the national kitty.
His UAE and UK personal visit from September, 12 to September, 17, UN and London
Sep 21 to 30 to attend the UN GA, China: October 14-17: A four-day official trip to
China. Saudi Arabia: Two-day official trip from Nov 4 to 5. UN for interfaith conference:
Six-day visit from Nov 10 to 15. UAE: First official visit from Nov. 24 to Nov. 26.
Turkey: Trilateral meeting from Dec 04 to Dec 06. Afghanistan: Official visit Jan 06 to
07, China: Business visit to forge economic cooperation from Feb 20 to 24. Iran: To meet
Iranian leaders and attend ECO summit from March 10 to 11. Turkey: For Third Trilateral
summit from March 31 to April 01. UAE: Private trip from April 13 to 14. Japan: FODP
and Donor Conference April 15 to 17. China: To meet Chinese leaders and attend Boao
Forum from April 17 to 19. UAE: Private trip from April 27 to 28. Libya: Official visit
from April 30 to May 2. UK: Private trip from May 3 to May 4. US: Official visit from
May 5 to 8. (Also stay in New York May 8 to May 13). UK: Private visit while coming
back from US from May 13 to May 15. France: Official visit from May 15 to May 18.
Iran: To attend trilateral summit one-day on May 24. Russia: To attend SCO summit from
June 14 to 16. Brussels: To attend first Pak-EU summit from June 17 to 19. Tajikistan: To
attend bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral meetings from July 28 to 29. China: Business
trip as part of quarterly visits from Aug 21 to 25. UK: To formally invite UK PM for
FODP. Aug 26, to August 30,
Dear readers, the election of Asif Ali Zardari as Pakistan’s president one year ago marked
the country’s return to full democracy after nine years of dictatorship. It was the first time
since 1958, when Pakistan experienced its first, which the presidency was to be occupied
by the leader of a major political party in the country. Politics and politicians have been
ridiculed for five decades by those who have championed the dominance by an un-
elected establishment. Pakistan’s last politician president held office from 1973 to1978
but then the constitution provided for the head of state to be a figurehead. Once the
presidency was endowed with significant powers through constitutional amendments, the
presidency was made a preserve of establishment nominees. The Pakistan People’s Party
(PPP) decided to challenge that paradigm when it nominated its co-chairman for the
highest office in the country. A year later, Pakistan’s march towards consolidation of
democracy continues and the decision to elect President Zardari is proving to have been
the correct one.
The PPP remains committed to undo the arbitrary changes to our country’s constitution
introduced under authoritarian rule. But until the constitutional balance is restored in
accordance with the spirit of the original 1973 Constitution it is important that the
presidency should be occupied by someone who has struggled for democracy and
suffered at the hands of the forces of dictatorship. With President Zardari in charge, there
is no likelihood of presidential powers being used to derail or weaken the democratic
process.
How ever Dear Reader’s, The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab has enumerated at
least 43 success stories of the PPP government during the first year of President Asif Ali
Zardari in the Presidency. These success stories are, Success in getting IMF loan and
minimizing the effects of economic recession. Success in the war on terror, removing
militants from Swat and return of two million IDP’s to their homes.
An increase in the American non-military aid on a yearly basis.
Efforts for inviting foreign investment in the country.
Successful foreign tours for building the image of Pakistan abroad.
Efforts for empowering women and legislation in this regard.
Announcement of “Bibi Behan Basti Programme” under the Benazir Income Support
Programme.
Transferring powers to Gilgit-Baltistan.
Restoration of judges and accepting decisions of superior judiciary to avoid any conflict.
Overcoming the energy crisis up to some extent through rental power plants and a plan to
generate 2,250MW electricity by the next six months.
Promoting reconciliation and bringing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to a one-point
agenda.
Constituting a committee to resolve the ongoing Balochistan crises and apologizing to the
Bloch. Setting up a committee to present recommendations to abolish the 17th
Amendment and Article 58(2B)
Accepting the supremacy of parliament and addressing parliament twice a year
Efforts for improving relations with India and the Muslim countries
Efforts to ensure the access of Pakistani traders to the European Union markets
Civil nuclear agreement with France
Conducting investigations of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination
through the United Nations
Promoting and accepting a free media
Initiating the Benazir Income Support Programme
Initiating the Benazir Bhutto Tractor Scheme and an increase in the price of wheat
Announcing the establishment of housing colonies for workers
Policy making in health and education sectors
Announcement of Rs 50 billion bail-out package to support the stock market
An increase in the foreign exchange reserves from $4 billion to $14 billion
Reinstating 6,000 terminated employees
Saving domestic banks from global economic recession
Proposing US drone attacks with the help of Pakistan
Proposing to make Pakistan, China and India a common market
Initiating Pakistan, Iran and Turkey train
Abolishing the political cell of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and keeping the army
from politics
Passing the Defense Bill in parliament
Taking all political forces on board in operation Rah-i-Rast
Issuing special directions to ministers for resolving the issues faced by the people
Urging the international community to offer help instead of demanding ‘more’
Promises of $5 billion in aid from the Friends of Democratic Pakistan
Increasing funds for all provinces in the 7th NFC Award
Decision to establish a unified local government system for the four provinces
Principled stance on equalizing the salaries of police officials across the country
Decision to provide internships to those having MA degrees
starting efforts to implement the Accountability Bill 2009
Formulating legislation to stop political victimizations
rejecting any proposal for a separate province
making the international community realize that Pakistan wants trade, not aid

Some of them have calculated that Asif Zardari, as the President of Pakistan, will have a
smooth sailing. Regarding his health, they say Zardari will attain the age of 90 years.
There will be attempts on his life during 2009 and 2011 but he will survive. Zardari will
prove to be a successful president and would continue to remain on the post for quiet a
long period. They say terrorism will be reduced to a great extent during Zardari’s tenure
and the image of the country will improve globally. The Army will support Zardari’s
moves in this regard. On the international scenario, Pakistan’s relations with India and
China will improve. They also say the economy of the country will recover by the
beginning of the year 2009.
An Astrologer suggests it would have been better if the presidential election was held
two days after September 6. He says the month of September 2008 would be favorable
for Zardari but he will have a difficult time in November and December 2008, while there
are signs of breakdown of the coalition government. There is also danger to Zardari’s life
during those two months, he says. Astrologer also sees disturbances in the Punjab in the
near future. However, Zardari will have a good time if he controls the situation in the
coming six months, but there appears no possibility that he will make it. Khan says
Zardari will have no problem with his health but his death will be accidental. His terms
with his children will become tense with the passage of time. However, Astrologer
predicts Zardari will not remarry.
The election of Asif Ali Zardari as Pakistan’s president one year ago marked the country’s
return to full democracy after nine years of dictatorship. It was the first time since 1958,
when Pakistan experienced its first, which the presidency was to be occupied by the
leader of a major political party in the country.
Politics and politicians have been ridiculed for five decades by those who have
championed the dominance by an un-elected establishment. Pakistan’s last politician
president held office from 1973 to1978 but then the constitution provided for the head of
state to be a figurehead. Once the presidency was endowed with significant powers
through constitutional amendments, the presidency was made a preserve of establishment
nominees. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) decided to challenge that paradigm when it
nominated its co-chairman for the highest office in the country. A year later, Pakistan’s
march towards consolidation of democracy continues and the decision to elect President
Zardari is proving to have been the correct one.
The PPP remains committed to undo the arbitrary changes to our country’s constitution
introduced under authoritarian rule. But until the constitutional balance is restored in
accordance with the spirit of the original 1973 Constitution it is important that the
presidency should be occupied by someone who has struggled for democracy and
suffered at the hands of the forces of dictatorship. With President Zardari in charge, there
is no likelihood of presidential powers being used to derail or weaken the democratic
process.
Since September 2008, the presidency and the office of prime minister are held by
members of the same political party but in an unprecedented configuration. Prime
Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is the Chief Executive, elected by parliament unanimously,
and his party’s Co-Chairman holds the office of President ensuring smooth functioning of
government. This differs significantly from the equation between 1993 and 1996, when
Mr Farooq Leghari found it tempting as President to stage a coup against his own party’s
leader, who was prime minister. By nominating and electing CO-Chairman Zardari as
President of the Republic, the PPP shut the door of palace intrigue. This would make it
easier to introduce constitutional amendments in accordance with the Charter of
Democracy through consensus.
President Zardari has powerful detractors, some of whom have been attacking him since
the day his nomination as a presidential candidate was announced. His bold initiative to
save the federation immediately after the assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir
Bhutto by countering regional and ethnic sentiment had made Mr. Zardari very popular.
For a short while it was impossible for his visceral critics to attack the widower of
Shaheed Mohtarma, who swallowed their hatred and pretended to accept him as “a
changed man”. But once he became a candidate for the presidency, he once again became
a target. One scribe set the ball rolling by writing on August 29, 2008 that “a grave threat
perception is fast developing in Islamabad’s key powers centers around Asif Zardari’s
attempt to occupy the Presidency”. Rumors mills have worked overtime over the last one
year to weave conspiracy theories, set deadlines for governmental breakdown and predict
a return to the era of palace intrigue and soft coups.
President Zardari has, however, remained steadfast in strengthening democracy and has
been fully supported by Prime Minister Gilani and the professional civil and military
officials. Last year’s major achievements include gathering public support for the fight
against militants in the Swat Valley, securing an IMF bailout for the battered economy,
restoration of the independent judiciary, working out of compromises between various
political parties, and the outlining of a vision for transforming the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas.
Prudent policies implemented after President Zardari’s election are yielding results. By
end-June 2009, fiscal deficit had declined from a high of 7.4% to 4.3% of GDP, current
account balance has declined from 8.4% to 5.3% of GDP and inflation had decelerated
from a high of 25.3% in August 2008 to 13.1% by end-June 2009 year-on-year basis.
Home remittances from Overseas Pakistanis reached a historic high of $ 7.811 billion and
the trade deficit declined by 16.5% compared to last year. Foreign Direct Investment
started to pick up again and stands at $3.721 billion despite adverse domestic and global
environment. Gross foreign exchange reserves have moved back to three months imports
(over $ 12 billion).
President Zardari’s principal achievement, however, is that he has proven wrong the
prophets of doom and gloom. Pursuing the spirit of reconciliation articulated by Shaheed
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in her final days, the president has reached out across the
political spectrum. Unlike some who prefer to seek approval by doing what is temporarily
popular, President Zardari is willing to take difficult decisions and make tough choices.
He has been elected for a five-year term and he need not seek applause on a daily, weekly
or monthly basis. As a democrat he remains tolerant of criticism and has put up with a
constant chorus trying to run him down. As he completes his first year in office, President
Zardari is clearly echoing the words of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who said
while addressing the nation soon after independence, “My message to you all is of hope,
courage and confidence. Let us mobilize all our resources in a systematic and organized
way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline
worthy of a great nation.”