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March 16 is D-Day for Zardari

By Hamid Mir
March 15, 2009 23:28 IST
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Hamid Mir, Executive Editor, Geo TV, on how the Pakistan president missed a great opportunity to resolve the crisis.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is angry with his close aides who have pushed him to a political dead end. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, his advisors Rehman Malik and Maulana Fazal ur Rehman repeatedly assured him that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could not attract the masses and the government should not show any flexibility on the issue of restoration of the deposed supreme court judges.

These advisors even told Zardari that he should not think of implementing the charter of democracy because its implementation would weaken his constitutional powers. Zardari even refused to listen to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and some foreign dignitaries who advised him to resolve the crisis by reinstating deposed judges through an executive order.

Taseer played a key role in destroying the federal government's political image. He provided wrong information and assessments to Zardari about his talks with the Pakistan Muslim League-Q. He assured Zardari that the PML-Q was ready to form a coalition government with the Pakistan Peoples Party in Punjab and that he would also muster the support of at least 18 PML-N rebels in the Punjab assembly.

The governor was proved wrong as the PML-Q never took a clear position on an alliance with the PPP, and just a day before the 'long march they apologised to Taseer. After this big political failure Zardari tried to scare Nawaz Sharif by issuing some security alerts.

Zardari was confident that Sharif would not dare to come on the roads himself. The Pakistan government repeatedly informed Sharif about the threat of 'suicide bombers', but Sharif was undeterred.

As a last resort Zardari tried to use American pressure. It surprised Zardari that top US government officials did not pressurise Sharif and only tried to mediate between the two leaders.

US government functionaries tried their best to ensure that Sharif would not march on the streets, but they failed. US President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for Pakistan Richard Holbrooke spoke to Sharif twice last week and offered his services to mediate with Zardari, but the PML-N chief never encouraged him.

Sharif told me that he does not want the army or America to interfere in Pakistan's political affairs and that is why he ignored Holbrooke's offer.

He is confident that March 16 will change the history of Pakistan not through foreign forces and the army, but by the power of the people. He is determined to spend at least seven days under the open sky in front of the president's house in Islamabad.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton also tried to coax Sharif from taking to the streets for the restoration of the deposed judges. She assured him that the government of Pakistan would file a review petition in the supreme court against the disqualification of the Sharif brothers, the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab would be revoked and that the deposed judges would also be restored, but Sharif must start a dialogue with Zardari.

Sharif simply informed Clinton that he has signed written agreements with Zardari at least thrice in the last year and that he cannot trust Pakistan's president any more. He made it clear to her that he is not interested in his political disqualification and will start talking to Zardari only after the deposed judges are restored to the bench.

Clinton informed Zardari about Sharif's conditions, but the president only issued a vague press release on Friday night without taking a clear position. Zardari thus missed a great chance to resolve the crisis.

Prime Minister Gilani has now advised Zardari to sack Taseer as Punjab's governor immediately and agree to the restoration of the deposed judges immediately. Else, the movement for the restoration of judges may turn into a 'Go Zardari. Go' movement.

March 16 could be the last day for Zardari to save his office from the angry masses.

It is sad that some of Zardari's friends are advising him to use the Sindh card against Nawaz Sharif, but Gilani is opposed to this advice. The prime minister says that no PPP minister from Punjab should have resigned at this crucial stage. Two ministers from Sindh resigned in protest against Zardari's policies and it is now the time to rescue the government's credibility by taking some good decisions.

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Hamid Mir