We did it for democracy!
Zardari sb reveals the secret behind his success
Pakistan Today’s editor, Arif Nizami, interviewed former President Asif Ali Zardari on a private TV channel recently. It was the former president’s first interview since leaving office. He talked about the present political impasse, economic challenges, the Karachi operation, and his party’s fortunes in Punjab, among other things.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Question: Mr Zardari you bailed out Mr Nawaz Sharif in Raiwand during the current crisis. What made you do so?
Asif Zardari: Firstly, whenever a politician moves or takes a position, it is in self-interest. It would be a lie if I said I was working in Mian sahib’s or someone else’s interest.
The move was to save democracy, for which the PPP sacrificed its leaders like ZA Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Many of our workers suffered jail, as I did for 13 years.
After BB was martyred Bilawal concluded our stance in a single sentence: democracy is the best revenge.
Q: Did Mian sb give this SOS call or was it your own initiative?
AZ: It was the People’s Party’s initiative. PPP is an opposition party in Senate where we are in majority. So it is our responsibly. If someone says it’s only the responsibility of the prime minister, it is wrong. This responsibility lies with the whole parliament.
Q: You said recently that Nawaz Sharif should act like a Wazeer-e-Azam not Mughal-e-Azam and come to parliament. Do you think he listened to you?
AZ: The PM should attend the upper house sessions and consult the parliament’s committees on every decision he makes. No computerised machine can strengthen democracy. Such accommodative behaviour would one day establish proper democracy.
Q: Do you see some reciprocity from the other side because I remember in memogate scandal Mian sahb himself had gone to Supreme Court wearing a uniform.
AZ: What he did was his act and what we did will remain ours. As I told you it is our not his responsibility to save democracy.
Q: What you think threatens the country? The sit-ins of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, or something else?
AZ: Economic loss, not sit-ins, threaten the country. Half the country is flooded. They are not helping nearly a million IDPs in the province Imran Khan’s party rules through its CM. As for elections, Imran Khan first talked about ROs and then apologised in the court after the chief justice took notice. It was clearly seen as well as reported how an RO had called and asked candidates about reciting the Kalma. In one such incident, the RO asked a senior leader how Begum Nusrat Bhutto was related to General Iskandar Mirza, though there was no relation. It was a useless question that had nothing to do with the RO or the election.
It was all pre-planned. The chief justice had passed an order even though the president is a part and parcel of elections and he has to be involved. But he gave prominence to the role of the chief justice and election commission.
Q: Your party members, especially Aitzaz Ahsan, as well as other parties talk of rigging in the 2013 elections. Do you think the rigging was so extensive that the whole election process was fraudulent?
AZ: That is beside the point. We, Nawaz as well as other parties, accepted the results and I administered oath to Nawaz. Now you want to bring this parliament down and hold re-elections? What do you want in the prevailing challenging financial and law and order conditions?
Q: Imran Khan, having started with thumb impressions, ended up asking for Nawaz’s resignation. What you think his politics is all about?
AZ: I think he is a new comer and immature in the field of politics. He takes extreme positions in love and hate. Like he and Mr Qadri find themselves in extreme love for each other at the moment.
Q: Correct, but there is a perception that Imran Khan is creating a feeling of dissatisfaction towards politicians among the masses. Look at his show in Karachi where he criticised you too.
AZ: He has the right to criticise and hold democratic gatherings. We welcome him to contest next elections from Lyari, Nazimabad and Federal B Area. We have no objection on someone’s arrival in Karachi. But gathering 60,000 to 70,000 people in a city of 30 million is not a big deal.
Q: Some say MQM also connived with PTI in Karachi?
AZ: Friends have their own pressure groups. Political parties show their pressure in different forms.
Q: Imran Khan also talks about hereditary politics.
AZ: If you talk about it, you will find hereditary politicians on the left and right of Imran Khan also. So he should send them packing first. First, ask Mr Khattack how many of his relatives are sitting in the provincial assembly (of KPK). Explain these positions before criticizing others.
Q: Can we say the establishment does not want any prime minister or political government to become strong? You too have been stranded in different cases and cirses. Nawaz Sharif is not suffering a bit too early. So how much of the blame you put on yourself and other forces that don’t want to see you too powerful?
AZ: I think all will have to look into their conscience and evolve; not only politicians but the establishment also. The generals and those old bureaucrats in Islamabad who shared power with Ziaul Haque, etc.
Q: You are talking about Roedad Khan?
AZ: No, I am talking about no one. I am saying while they were in Zia ul Haq’s government they did everything they were not supposed to do. Today they fear judgement day and are dying for the country. So such are the retired minds and retired faces who live in the city.
Q: The operation in Sindh has been going on for a year from now. What have you achieved? Any improvement?
AZ: Well, the operation is ongoing but we need the support of the federal government. We have talked to them, hoping they would help us. Karachi, to me, is a city of 25 million today which has a police force less than Lahore in number. We need modern technology and equipment. A lot of people have migrated to Karachi because of military operations and floods. It is a big challenge. Basically, we are short on equipment not passion.
Q: Has there been a lack of cooperation from the federal government?
AZ: Mr Dar has his own problems relating to resource mobilisation, energy crises, etc. Then tax collection is not up to the mark. So we are all co-operating. After all we have to run the government.
Q: How do you feel about Altaf Hussain’s formula of carving 20 provinces?
AZ: Altaf bhai’s mood keeps changing. We will change his mood.
Q: Should these provinces be made?
AZ: Most definitely not! You can’t afford the existing chief ministers, bureaucracy and parliament, what to talk of holding elections in new smaller provinces.
Q: He says it is for administrative purposes.
AZ: But it has a cost. And why make new provinces? There is no cause in our sight. I have shared all the powers of federal government under the 18th amendment, the democratic dividend of which should first be enjoyed. Deliver to the people and then move forward.
Q: Some say you weakened the federal government through the 18th amendment.
AZ: I don’t say it is without faults. In the evolution of democracy there will always be faults. You keep improving. The weaknesses can be done away with. Our bottom line is manifested in the English proverb that says “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” We are open to dialogue if you see the need for amendments or strengthening the constitution.
Q: Has Nawaz Sharif asked you how you completed your five-year tenure?
AZ: No, he did not. But if he had I would have told him that tolerance, tolerance and tolerance is the answer.
Q: For example, what should be tolerated?
AZ: For example, just notice the many forms of activism I was faced with. From judicial to journalist to individual activism. But we tolerated everything because I had a target to let democracy complete its tenure. I lost two prime ministers and the nominated the third one just to let democracy take its course and evolve.
Q: What if, like you, Mian sb had become president and made Shehbaz Sharif the premier?
AZ: Why would he do that? He is an elected MNA.
Q: You too could have won the election.
AZ: Yes, but had I not gone to the presidency the substitute person would never have given you the powers (I gave under the 18th amendment). For this or that excuse or reasons the sitting prime minister and president would have been made afraid.
Q: Besides tolerance, did you also survive because you confided in people beyond your family members, even made them prime ministers?
AZ: That has always been the case in our party. Twice the position of chairman senate went to party workers. Be it Farooq H Naek, a lawyer, or Nayyar Bukhari who was president of Islamabad.
Q: This question though should be directed at Mian sb, but what do think this government would survive for five years?
AZ: Why would it not? You tell me what is the constitutional route?
Q: Factors going against this government include sit-ins, strain in civil-military ties and not allowing Musharraf to go abroad. These factors are believed to be pulling Sharif’s leg. He seems vulnerable.
AZ: It is the job of politicians to fight such vulnerability.
Q: You too were quite fragile in the memogate era.
AZ: It always is the case. In my time every three months I would be speculated to go.
Q: Given the existential threat of terrorism and the sacrifices of your family, how much room you see for Bilawal Bhutto to play politics in future?
AZ: As far as Bilawal goes, he has decided to adopt politics. Unlike my elder daughter Bakhtawar, who intends to run SZABIST, Bilawal wants to do politics and is doing it. Otherwise, I would not be able to make him do it. The party has rendered great sacrifices. People ask what sacrifice has Bilawal rendered? He could have come to me in jail and say Baba let’s go home. He was 12 then and could do that like normal children.
Q: A narrative is developing that the two parties, PPP and PML-N, have had their turns and now a third party, of Imran Khan, would be filling the political vacuum in Punjab.
AZ: I welcome them. We want more political participants to occupy the space that is usually grabbed by apolitical forces. That would increase our democratic strength.
Q: How do rate the performance of PML-N government after one and a half years?
AZ: I think they came and got entangled in difficult problems. Then they had a laid-back attitude because of the majority (they won in lower house).
Q: Shehbaz Sharif said he would not spare Ali Baba and 40 thieves. But I did not see him around while you were at Raiwand.
AZ: As I said I never befriended or antagonised him. What he said was his politics and what we do is ours. That does not make a difference.
Q: What is Allama Qadri doing? You managed to send him back last time from his container, but this time he is more stubborn.
AZ: It was so kind of him. We had handled him with love. I had advised all political forces to go to him.
Q: Those forces now are advising him
AZ: Yes they are and they can again be persuaded, but it is government’s job. We too are trying through a political jirga of the opposition led by Mr Sirajul Haq. We are trying to end the impasse.
Q: Some allege that a hidden hand is backing these sit-ins and some have even got their sherwanis stitched to enjoy power during the proposed technocrat government. If it materialises, I don’t think even Imran and Qadri would benefit. What do you think?
AZ: I don’t agree that a technocrat government can run the country.
Q: Would you agree that a sea change has taken place where the whole parliament, except Imran Khan, is standing with the prime minister? Some say you advised Mian sb on holding the joint session.
AZ: Khursheed Shah and our party said we have to face them in the joint session of the parliament.
Q: what you think Javed Hashmi is up to?
AZ: He has his own style of politics. I would not comment on it but there is something which is being hidden.
Q: Last question, recent changes in army circles are being portrayed as a source of change by the media. Do you agree?
AZ: Media has become so big a forum that it can elevat anything or anyone at will. But I don’t think the questions being raised would weaken the chiefs.
Q: Farhatullah Babar has put up a proposal for a committee to hold direct talks between the civilian and military leaderships. Does he enjoy your support?
AZ: Farhatullah Babar is a sweet person. He is my spokesperson but not the think tank of the party.