THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE, 12th SEPTEMBER 2013:-
I can say with some confidence that President Asif Ali Zardari’s legacy will be written in golden words. I don’t say this as his son, or co-chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party — but as a student of history.
I would compare his presidency with that of America’s Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ). He too was an accidental president. He came to power following the assassination of the popular and charismatic John F Kennedy (JFK). Much like Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, JFK was assassinated before he could implement much of his agenda and vision for the country.
LBJ used the political capital he gained following his assassination and the landslide victory in the election to make JFK’s dream a reality.
President Zardari came to power just as the global recession hit. He had to cobble together an unruly coalition, put up with a constant assault from a conservative Supreme Court that sought to undermine him at every turn. This does not include dealing with Pakistan’s omnipotent establishment and the menace of terrorism.
Despite all of this, he presided over the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in our country’s history. He passed the historic Eighteenth Amendment, gave up his powers as the most powerful civilian president and devolved much power from the centre to the provinces, strengthening both democracy and the federation.
Then, of course, there was the historic Benazir Income Support Programme, his own brainchild, which is not only our country’s first social safety net, but is also internationally praised as an effective, transparent and a model programme for the region.
Despite the economic recession, he kept the economy on firm footing and stimulated an agricultural boom that transformed Pakistan from a wheat importer to a wheat exporter. He did all this with little economic assistance from the West.
He fulfilled the dream of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto by implementing the moratorium on the death penalty and signed more women’s rights, minority rights and human rights legislation than all past parliaments combined.
Despite our image as a pro-western party, he stood up for Pakistan’s sovereignty. He delivered a daring speech at the United Nations rebutting the world’s demands to do more on the war on terror. When our sovereignty was violated and national honour undermined by incidents like the Salala attack — he stood up to the world’s superpowers, shut the Shamsi Air Base and temporarily halted Nato supply lines until America, for the first time in its history, apologised for the firing that cost the lives of brave Pakistani soldiers, a demand that even the United Kingdom had suggested we drop because they, too, had failed to get an apology when British troops were killed in a similar firing incident.
As commander and chief, he presided over the successful Swat operation against the Taliban, a success that even the military dictator before him failed to achieve.
By far, his greatest achievement is shepherding Pakistan through the nation’s tumultuous transition to democracy. As a son, and a Pakistani citizen, I could not be more proud of President Zardari. He has truly given me a second legacy to live up to. We have lost so much, yet we have won the war. Democracy has arrived. Mark my words, history will remember President Zardari as one of the greatest and most successful leaders the country has ever seen.