Anyone who is familiar with the game of chess would know that unlike other sports, in chess very little has to do with luck. All the information is available to both parties equally; it is the analytical skill, the perception and predictions of the players that make all the difference. Hence, a master of chess plans all his moves in advance with all possible scenarios, some having gone so far as to say that the first three moves, more or less, decide the fate of the game. Life is no different with the only exception being the will of God and sometimes it seems that God in all his glorious omniscience watches as mortals play at being gods, giving them more and more leverage till at the peak of their perceived invincibility. He wrenches the very ground on which they thought their indestructible empire stood, leaving them neither time to repent nor a chance to seek forgiveness. Thus, we see the unfolding of an ingenious strategy right at home amidst the political turmoil by the man who is nothing less than a grand puppet master of Pakistani politics, the President himself.
Marriage to an emancipated young woman, educated at Harvard and Oxford no less, could not have been easy for the son of a Balochi tribal Chief reigning in the heart of rural Sindh. After all, for all apparent purposes the bride and groom did not have much in common, yet he rose to the challenge and bade his time understanding the dynamics of his potentially powerful position. His initial foray into the world of politics in 1983 was a complete disaster, so post-marriage to Benazir Bhutto, a rising star in Pakistani politics; he must have re-evaluated his strategy. Thus, we saw a very cautious figure during the first time Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister. Exquisitely demonstrating that only fools rush-in Zardari even acquiesced to the request made by his wife to stay away from politics. We saw a meek, unimpressive figure demurely following the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country as she, holding her first born son, Bilawal, dismounted from the aircraft for her first state visit to the United States in 1989. However, as he grew more confident in his new position, his first ventures were in securing financial deals, rather than political ground earning him the nickname of ‘Mr Ten Percent’; a phrase that many of my Japanese acquaintances find quite entertaining till they are assured of its authenticity. So by the end of Benazir’s first term, the international acclaim was, more or less, in the bag.
Yet, Zardari still had much to learn and he was a very astute learner. He was becoming more and more aware of the power of military in Pakistani politics. Although widely thought to be involved in corruption, indicted for the same and sent to prison after Benazir was sacked by Ghulam Ishaq; he was freed in 1993 and acquitted in 1994. All corruption charges against the Bhutto administration had been thrown out of court by then. The second Bhutto term as PM showed Zardari taking a more active role in politics, taking on the mantle of Investment Minister, Chief of the IB and FIA. Still he was unable to stop Farooq Leghari from cutting short his tenure as an alleged ‘de facto PM’. This time around bigger problems had to be dealt with such as Murtaza Bhutto and his subsequent murder, misuse of vast public funds, millions of dollars in kickbacks and money laundering. Jail and exile followed with rumours of torture, yet the most astounding fact remains that he was elected twice while being in jail and none of the allegations have ever been proven in court whether his party was in power or not. If any proof of intellectual superiority was needed, this definitely is it!
Post-Musharraf we see the culmination of years of research and planning in action. Zardari is now PPP Co-Chariman, President of Pakistan and, more or less, the man who calls the shots. The Prime Ministers, past or present, under him are very flexible puppets willing to dance to his every tune. While they are prepared to walk the plank for their revered leader, take on institutions such as the army and the judiciary on the directive of the high command knowingly becoming scapegoats so that no amount of blame can be traced back, the powers that be sit comfortably at top. The only thing that is left to do is to marvel at the intelligence of the man himself. He neither makes any hue or cry, nor do we have any inkling as to his doings or whereabouts. Quietly, assuredly, he has secured his position and is not going to give it up easily. Let others do their worst; Zardari is no ordinary man!
n The writer is a freelance columnist.