What’s going on with Zardari?
The Pakistan Policy Blog:DEC 7, 2011Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues.
Here’s my hypothesis on what’s really going on with President Asif Ali Zardari:
Zardari’s heart is in poor condition. He may have had a heart attack or doctors detected severe blockage in his arteries. As a result, he’s had to leave the country for Dubai (possibly en route to London) to get medical care of a higher quality than what’s available in Pakistan.
Rather than being honest and forthcoming, Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, did what most Pakistani government officials do to their people: obscure the truth. He said Zardari is in Dubai for a routine medical checkup.
Having met with the prime minister and Senate chairman (who is first in line to succeed the president or temporarily take his place when he or she is abroad) this weekend, it appears that something serious was going on.
That was pretty obvious to members of the Pakistani media. Some Pakistani journalists have it out for Zardari. And sensationalism results in higher ratings, higher advertising rates, and more money for media conglomerates.
So given the uncertainty of the situation — enabled by Babar not telling the truth — some Pakistani journalists took the opportunity to add some masala (spice) to the story and give Zardari trouble by claiming that there was a political element to Zardari’s sudden departure from the country. Zardari, they claimed, was being ushered out by the army in a “soft coup” and would resign within 48 hours.
Now that makes little sense. It would be difficult to hide the fact that Zardari was being pushed (illegally) out of office by the army. The army would then be condemned by a wide set of actors, including Western governments, for subverting the constitution. Zardari in exile would then play the role of political martyr, stirring up his currently disenchanted party base and possibly even do really well in the next elections.
Kayani is not one to act brashly. He wouldn’t push Zardari out right now. A more opportune moment would be at the height of a political crisis in which Zardari is the target of intense pressure from multiple political actors, while the army remains silent publicly to maintain the veneer of being apolitical. Such a moment could arise in the coming months as the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, emboldened by the Memogate scandal, presses forward with its campaign to force Zardari’s resignation and the Wikileaks organization releases critical information on Swiss bank accounts of elite Pakistanis and Indians, which most likely includes Zardari.