Tag Archive for 'Asif Ali Zardari'

Pakistan’s “Memogate”

From Foreign Policy:

Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has become embroiled in a political scandal in Islamabad and offered his resignation today to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, as Adm. Michael Mullen exclusively confirmed to The Cable the existence of a secret memo that the former Joint Chiefs chairman had earlier not recollected receiving.

Haqqani, who has long been a key link between the civilian government in Pakistan and the Obama administration, has also been battling for years with the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s chief spy agency — two organizations whose influence in Washington he has fought to weaken. That battle came to the fore of Pakistani politics this month due to the growing scandal known in Pakistan as “memo-gate,” which relates to a secret backchannel memo that was allegedly conveyed from Zardari to Mullen, through Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. More:

The memo is authentic: The Cable confirmed that the memo is authentic and that it was received by Mullen. The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani — the rumored author of the memo — has offered to resign over what has become a full-fledged scandal in Islamabad. The Cable spoke this evening to the man at the center of the controversy and the conduit of the memo, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.

The silver lining: The Mansoor Ijaz “memogate” scandal — in which a Pakistani-American businessman claims to have secretly conveyed the elected government’s plea for U.S. backing against his country’s own military — is sparking debate about everyone’s favorite Pakistan bugaboos: secrecy and backstabbing, coups and the invisible hand. It’s a long and resplendent tradition now; the hackneyed and voluble moral outrage are predictable. Like controversies past, this too will be seen from two extreme angles: a product of a plot hatched by intelligence agencies and their hypernationalist enablers, or of the turpitude of civilian politicians and their ultraliberal enablers.

Zardari marriage rumours

From The Times of India:

PPP has condemned as internet rumour reports that Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari tied the knot with US-based Dr Tanveer Zamani in Dubai last week.

Websites describe Zamani, a practising physician, as “a Mediterranean descent American resident” who lives in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, New York. The posts claim she earned a PhD in international politics from Britain and owns estates in London, Dubai, Islamabad and Manhattan. They further claim Zamani is prohibited from attending “public political meetings due to security issues”.

The News correspondent in Washington had spoken to Zamani, who refused comment when she was asked, “Are you Mrs Zardari?” The newspaper reported that Zamani is a Democratic Party member in the US and had campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008. More:

Not true, says Dr Zamani

From The News, Pakistan:

Dr Tanveer Zamani on Friday denied her wedding with President Zardari and also claimed that she has never met President Zardari either in US or elsewhere.

“I have never met President Zardari and the only reason, I have refrained from commenting on an Internet hoax involving me is because I deemed it against my dignity to respond to such a hoax. Bloggers and journalists do not have the right to make up stories and disrupt the lives of people,” she said in an email message.

She explicitly and clearly denied being married or being subject to a proposal or notion of being married to the president, whom she holds in high esteem. Tanveer Zamani said in her email that this is her first ever denial on the matter while rumours and emails about her wedding have been in circulation for the last three weeks. More:

Touched by tragedy

The Times of India has an excerpt from Fatima Bhutto‘s book, Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir, published by Viking (Penguin India):

Asif Zardari was on the phone. ‘Don’t you know?’ he said casually to me. ‘Your father’s been shot.’ I dropped the phone. My body went numb and cold and my heart beat so hard it drowned out everything around me. Mummy picked up the phone. She saw my face, I looked ashen. She must have known something was terribly wrong though I couldn’t get the words out to say anything or even look at her. She screamed. I don’t remember what she said. I was frozen to my chair, Papa’s green armchair.

It must be the arm, I kept telling myself. He must be hit in the arm; it can’t be serious, maybe the leg. Why would Zardari tell me, a fourteen-year-old girl, that my father had been shot if it had been serious? I couldn’t breathe. Mummy must have called for the car. The next thing I knew she was running towards the door. I got up and ran after her. ‘Stay here!’ she yelled. ‘No!’ I screamed back. ‘I’m coming with you!’ Zulfi (little brother) was sitting in the lobby now, with Sofi, his nanny from when he was a baby. Sofi watched Mummy and me yelling at each other in the corridor by the door. She held Zulfi close to her and tried to distract him from our screaming. More

Also in The Times of India: ‘Should I die to prove Pakistan is dangerous?’

In The Telegraph, UK: Living by the bullet:

When Fatima was 14, she cowered in the dressing-room of her parents’ bedroom in Karachi, her back against the locked door. She was shielding her six-year-old brother, Zulfikar, from a barrage of bullets outside her house. ‘It’s just fireworks, Fati,’ said the quiet little boy. But Fatima, who was always wise beyond her years, knew otherwise – she understood something about violent deaths. Her family was plagued with them.

How to mend fences with Pakistan

Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, in the New York Times:

asif_ali_zardari4Now that President Obama has recommitted the United States to stand with Pakistan and Afghanistan in our common fight against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism, it would be useful for Americans and Pakistanis to consider what has brought us to this point — and what the conflict’s true endgame must be.

Despite the noise created by an often hyperactive press in Pakistan (an essential and preferable alternative to the censorship that prevailed during my country’s military dictatorships), and the doubts expressed in America, Pakistan’s democratically elected government is unambiguously on the right path toward establishing a moderate and modern nation.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and I are working closely with our national assembly and our military and intelligence agencies to defeat the Taliban insurgency and the Qaeda-backed campaign of terrorism. Simultaneously, we are pursuing policies that will re-establish Pakistan as a vibrant economic market and finally address the long-neglected weaknesses in our education, health, agriculture and energy sectors. This isn’t just rhetoric — it is an active policy with new budget priorities and a reoriented national mindset. More:

Also read in NYT: ‘Obama needs a ‘Plan B‘ by Anatol Lieven, a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation, and Maleeha Lodhi, senior fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington and London.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the eldest child of the late Pakistani politician and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the current President of Pakistan. His Wiki profile says he is studying History at Christ Church, Oxford. His speech in Urdu is doing the rounds for the accent.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LueCW7pA610

Are nuclear warheads safe in Pakistan?

Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker:

In the tumultuous days leading up to the Pakistan Army’s ground offensive in the tribal area of South Waziristan, which began on October 17th, the Pakistani Taliban attacked what should have been some of the country’s best-guarded targets. In the most brazen strike, ten gunmen penetrated the Army’s main headquarters, in Rawalpindi, instigating a twenty-two-hour standoff that left twenty-three dead and the military thoroughly embarrassed. The terrorists had been dressed in Army uniforms. There were also attacks on police installations in Peshawar and Lahore, and, once the offensive began, an Army general was shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles on the streets of Islamabad, the capital. The assassins clearly had advance knowledge of the general’s route, indicating that they had contacts and allies inside the security forces.

Pakistan has been a nuclear power for two decades, and has an estimated eighty to a hundred warheads, scattered in facilities around the country. The success of the latest attacks raised an obvious question: Are the bombs safe? Asked this question the day after the Rawalpindi raid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We have confidence in the Pakistani government and the military’s control over nuclear weapons.” Clinton—whose own visit to Pakistan, two weeks later, would be disrupted by more terrorist bombs—added that, despite the attacks by the Taliban, “we see no evidence that they are going to take over the state.”

Clinton’s words sounded reassuring, and several current and former officials also said in interviews that the Pakistan Army was in full control of the nuclear arsenal. But the Taliban overrunning Islamabad is not the only, or even the greatest, concern. The principal fear is mutiny—that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup, take control of some nuclear assets, or even divert a warhead. More:

The frontier against terrorism

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in the Washington Post:

After the debacle of Vietnam, the United States could pack up and leave with minimal consequences for its genuine national interests; similarly, for the British in the subcontinent and the French in Algeria. But the West, indeed the entire civilized world, does not have that luxury in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Taliban and al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region, their destabilizing alliance will spread across the continents.

In Pakistan today, democracy must succeed. The forces of extremism must be vanquished. Failure is not an option; not for us, not for the world.

How can we ensure that the forces of freedom defeat the forces of fanaticism? The problems that have fueled extremism are multifaceted and the solutions equally multidimensional. We need short- and long-term strategies, and we must realize that to truly eliminate the terrorist menace, we have to succeed not only militarily but politically, economically and socially. More:

The Taliban will ‘never be defeated’

‘Colonel Imam’, the Pakistani agent who trained Mullah Omar and the warlords to fight the Soviets, tells Christina Lamb in Rawalpindi the US must negotiate with its enemies. From the Sunday Times:

“I have worked with these people since the 1970s and I tell you they will never be defeated. Anyone who has come here has got stuck. The more you kill, the more they will expand.”

A tall, bearded figure, whose real name is Amir Sultan Tarar, he trained at Fort Bragg, the US army base where America’s special forces are stationed.

During the late 1970s and 1980s he controlled CIA-funded training camps for 95,000 Afghans and often accompanied his students on missions.

After the Soviet defeat and the collapse of communism, he was invited to the White House by the first President George Bush and was given a piece of the Berlin Wall with a brass plaque inscribed: “To the one who dealt the first blow.” More:

Zardari’s new zeal

David Pilling and Farhan Bokhari interview the Pakistan President. In the Financial Times:

zardariA visit to Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan, is not to be undertaken lightly. Four rings of security surround Islamabad, the leafy capital now scarred with sandbags and clogged with concrete roadblocks designed to deter suicide bombers. Then come six more checkpoints at which guards search vehicles, frisk the occupants and confiscate electronic devices.

Even inside the presidential palace, now 10 concentric circles of security from the violent world beyond, soldiers mill around with automatic weapons. Mr Zardari would be like a general in his labyrinth were he not a civilian president in a nation where military rule has been the norm.

The chamber where he receives his guests is more mausoleum than meeting room. Prominently displayed are photographs of Benazir Bhutto, his wife, whose assassination in December 2007 led to his appointment as president eight months later. Now, Mr Zardari has taken on the anti-jihadi battle that was to have been his wife’s. More than once during an interview with the Financial Times, he raises his eyes skywards and – dressed in a silver-grey suit rather more sparkling than his lowly, though improving, approval ratings – invokes the spirit of Benazir. More:

Click here to read the transcript of the FT interview:

The warlords casting a shadow over Afghanistan

Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:

Gulbuddin Hekmetyar, Faryadi Zardad and Mohammad Qasim Fahim

Gulbuddin Hekmetyar, Faryadi Zardad and Mohammad Qasim Fahim

One of the most feared of the Afghan warlords, Faryadi Zardad, was notorious for robbing, raping, torturing and killing travellers on the road between Kabul and Jalalabad. He kept a savage assistant in a cave who would bite and rip the flesh of his victims; other captives were murdered or imprisoned until they died of their sufferings or bribes were paid for their release.

Uniquely among the warlords of Afghanistan, many guilty of actions similar to his own, Zardad is in prison for his crimes. In 1998, as the Taliban overran Afghanistan, he fled to Britain on a fake passport. He was running a pizza restaurant in south London in 2000 when he was unmasked by the BBC, and in 2005 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Britain.

Zardad must consider himself exceptionally unlucky. Other warlords, who were once his comrades in arms, are now part of the political elite in Kabul, prominent members of the government or multimillionaire owners of palatial houses in the capital.

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Zardari: the man who caved in to the Taliban

Brig Gen Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani infantry officer, in the National:

When Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari finally inked the Swat peace deal two weeks ago, handing that region over to the Taliban, he left an indelible mark on the nation’s history; and just as two of his predecessors did, he established his legacy for the people of Pakistan.

If General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s legacy is the initiation of religious extremism in Pakistan, and General Pervez Musharraf’s is its flowering into the terrorism that the country is riddled with today, then Mr Zardari will go down in history as the one who succumbed to those terrorist threats – although that ignominy is not his alone, and has to be shared by the parliament that approved the deal, legitimised the Taliban’s activities and handed over a part of the country to them.

Already, Sufi Muhammed, the militant who brokered the deal and is the estranged father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, leader of the Swat Taliban, has categorically stated that none of the previous acts of the Taliban can be prosecuted under the Islamic laws being imposed in Swat: so in one sentence they have been granted amnesty for murder, rape, pillage and other crimes.

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Stop funding my failing state

When Pakisan’s president visits the White House next week, he’s sure to ask for another handout. But Fatima Bhutto, niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, says the billions of dollars the U.S. gives are merely propping up a government that’s capitulating to terror [in The Daily Beast]

In Pakistan things move at a leisurely South Asian pace. We missed our goals to eradicate polio recently because we, a nuclear nation, could not sustain electricity across the country long enough to refrigerate the vaccines. Garbage disposal is a nonexistent concept, and plush neighborhoods in Karachi boast towers of rubbish piled on street corners and alleyways. Prisons and police cells are full of prisoners awaiting trials, and our justice system, despite the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, leaves little to be desired in terms of meting out free and fair access to justice.

One thing moving ridiculously fast, however, is the Taliban’s stranglehold on the country. After two years of fighting off Taliban insurgents camped out in the lush Swat Valley, Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, threw in the towel last week and gave the militants what they wanted—Shariah law.

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Can Pakistan be governed?

Terrorists. Secessionists. Angry neighbors. Smoldering generals. And Asif Ali Zardari, with the job of keeping his country from becoming the most dangerous failed state in the world. James Traub in The New York Times Magazine:

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari

The president himself, natty in a navy suit, his black hair brilliantined to a sheen, was the very picture of ease. Zardari beamed when we talked about New York, where he often lived between 2004, when he was released from prison after eight years, and late 2007, when he returned to Pakistan not long after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by terrorists. For all that painful recent history, Zardari is a suave and charming man with a sly grin, and he gives the impression of thoroughly enjoying what must be among the world’s least desirable jobs. Zardari had just been through the most dangerous weeks of his six months in office. He dissolved the government in Punjab, Pakistan’s dominant state, and called out the police to stop the country’s lawyers and leading opposition party from holding a “long march” to demand the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been sacked, along with most of the high judiciary, by Zardari’s predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Zardari defused the situation only by allowing Chaudhry’s return to office and giving in to other demands that he had previously and repeatedly rejected.

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The year of living dangerously

Novelist Bapsi Sidhwa looks back at last year’s tumultous events in Pakistan and seeks answers to present dilemma. From The Deccan Herald [via 3QuarksDaily]

bapsiOne cannot look in upon events in 2008 without reflecting on the fateful moments that held Pakistan hostage to a horrendous roller-coaster ride through 2007. The turmoil that spilled over from Afghanistan into the lawless maze of mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan intensified, and suicide bombers, not on our radars before, exploded like grotesque fire-crackers in the northern areas and in major cities, including Lahore, killing thousands. The radicalisation of the peaceful Swat Valley by the Taliban and their dire edicts was another development:

“If any ‘nai’ shaves or trims a beard, his shop will be blown up!”

What could the poor barbers do but obey?

A new girl’s school built by DIL, a voluntary organisation for the development of literacy, was burnt down in the Valley.

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Pakistan in peril

William Dalrymple reviews “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

The tribal areas have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but they have now been radicalized as never before. The rain of armaments from US drones and Pakistani ground forces, which have caused extensive civilian casualties, daily add a steady stream of angry footsoldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-Western religious and political extremism continues to flourish.

The most alarming manifestation of this was the ease with which a highly trained jihadi group, almost certainly supplied and provisioned in Pakistan, probably by the nominally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba-an organization that aims to restore Muslim rule in Kashmir-attacked neighboring India in November. They murdered 173 innocent people in Bombay, injured over six hundred, and brought the two nuclear-armed rivals once again to the brink of war. The attackers arrived by sea, initially using boats based in the same network of fishing villages across the Makran coast through which a number of al-Qaeda suspects are known to have been spirited away from Pakistan to the Arab Gulf following the American assault on Tora Bora in 2001.

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One Year On: The lives Benazir left behind

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has left a gaping hole in politics – and in her family’s life. Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times. Portrait by Mian Khursheed:

benazir

On the anniversary of that terrible afternoon of December 27 in Pakistan, when one minute Benazir Bhutto, 54, was waving to crowds after an election rally and the next she was lying slumped on the floor of her vehicle, her widower and children went to give blood, as they vow to do every year. At the family home in Dubai, where she lived in exile, Benazir’s bedroom is locked. On the bedside table sits the manuscript of a book she finished writing a day before she was killed. “I sleep in the next room, because the children and I don’t want to lose her scent,” says her widower, Asif Ali Zardari.

On that fateful day in 2007, he and the children were in Dubai when they got a phone call saying Benazir was hurt. Zardari bitterly regrets that his wife refused to let him do the campaigning after she narrowly avoided a bombing in October. “I told her to bunker down after that and I’d take over. But she didn’t want anything to happen to me.”

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Can Zardari turn down the heat on Pakistan?

Rageh Omaar in the National:

I was the last television reporter inside the madrassa at the Red Mosque in Islamabad before the Pakistani army surrounded the compound in July 2007. The 10-day standoff marked a turning point in Pakistan’s struggle with militants – the moment when the Taliban-backed insurgency moved from the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan into the capital city and the heart of government. The confrontation ended with the death of the religious leader Abdul Ghazi and many others – the exact death toll was never divulged – and the destruction of the madrassa.

People in Pakistan, as well as the international community, were shocked by the violence of the assault. The incident sparked a fresh wave of disruption inside Pakistan and witnessed the beginning of President Pervez Musharraf’s demise. Until then, he had appeared unassailable to his western allies. He was the man who, in the wake of the attacks of September 11, had overnight turned Pakistan into Washington’s indispensable ally in the overthrow of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and in the wider war on terror.

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The Pakistan test

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year will very likely be here in Pakistan. A country with 170 million people and up to 60 nuclear weapons may be collapsing.

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

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Zardari at the HT Summit: Pak will not be the first to make a nuclear strike

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

zardariI’ve been caught up at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit for the past two days where the big ticket headline news, of course, was Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari stating that he was not in favour of nuclear weapons at all and that Pakistan would certainly not use it first against India.

Zardari was speaking to the audience in New Delhi via video link in his Islamabad home with huge portraits of his slain wife, Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the background. Apparently Zardari accepted HT’s invitation to its annual summit before he became president. After being sworn in, any visit now to India will have to be a state visit and the timing of his first state visit, whenever it happens, will have to be carefully planned. So, for HT a video link was the next best option.

Zardari came off warm and full of bonhomie. His opening remarks (where he repeated a quote by his wife that there was a ‘little bit of an Indian in every Pakistani and a little bit of a Pakistani in every Indian,’) was greeted with applause.

“Cold war of the previous era kept us (India and Pakistan) divided… Let’s embrace each other,” he said and expressed hope that the two countries would move and work together in the future. Zardari also spoke of more open travel between India and Pakistan.

“I don’t feel threatened by India and India should not feel threatened by us,” Zardari said. Pakistan, he stated, was for enhancing trade and economic ties with India.

“If you can trade with China, why not with Pakistan.” He also sought New Delhi’s assistance to get loan from the IMF to tide over the grim economic situation.

Throughout his address, Zardari steered clear of any mention of Kashmir. But in response to a question from the audience he said that Kashmir belonged to the Kashmiris.

For news reports on Zardari’s address click here, here and here.

For complete HT Leadership Summit coverage click here.

Pakistan turns to ‘friends’ in its hour of need

Jeremy Page from Islamabad in the Times:

Welcome to Pakistan’s “Street of Dreams” – your chance to buy into a future free of suicide bombers, power cuts, crumbling infrastructure and bad shopping.

So goes the sales pitch for Canyon Views, a 1,000-acre complex of 5,000 luxury homes in Tuscan, Portuguese and Moorish styles being built on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital. “It’s a dream come true,” said a sales executive on a recent tour. “This is the new Islamabad.”

When a Dubai-based developer invested $2.4 billion (£1.6 billion) in this and two similar projects in Pakistan in 2006, the dream seemed almost real. The economy was booming, the consumer class spending, the stock market outperforming the world. The first 250 villas – costing as much as $400,000 each – sold in a flash.

How times have changed.

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An old army in a new war

The Pakistani army is engaged in a gritty battle with Afghan militants in a border area where it has never had authority. Jason Burke reports from Loesam in the Guardian:

Loesam is a long way from anywhere. Once a small town in north-west Pakistan, on the Afghanistan frontier, it has been razed to the ground. The bazaar is a pile of rubble, homes scraped down to their concrete foundations. The only building still upright is the mosque that stands in the corner of what once was the local petrol station. The population has fled.

A few hundred metres out of Loesam, the 25th Punjab regiment of the Pakistani army is digging in. Those few hundred metres were seized the day before in a short, sharp engagement with militants entrenched in mud-walled compounds, stands of slim ash, birch trees and dry valleys with their yellow dust walls on their outskirts.

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Parivaar politics

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

My latest column in Mint takes a look at how deep dynastic politics runs in India

rahul1_

The most startling thing to me about Congress party general secretary Margaret Alva’s outburst on television was not that she was criticizing her party at a public forum (rare in these days of sycophancy), or even the seriousness of her allegation that tickets in Karnataka were sold (and it’s a measure of our cynicism that we accept that this as not uncommon across political parties).

For me, the startling thing was that her complaint—her son had been overlooked for a party ticket in Karnataka, while the relatives of politicians in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan seemed to have no problem getting tickets—didn’t whip up a bigger storm.
Alva was not protesting against a system of patronage. Quite the opposite. Her argument: If the relatives of other politicians are given tickets to contest elections, then why not reward my son, too?

Pakistan’s president on terrorism, India and his late wife

Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal:

Zina Saunders / WSJ

Image: Zina Saunders / WSJ

Asif Ali Zardari used to sport a full moustache, jet black and rakish in the style of the avid polo player he once was. But sometime in the past year he trimmed it short and let its salt-and-pepper colors show. It befits the sober role he has now assumed, at 53, as the president of Pakistan, probably the world’s most difficult — and dangerous — political job.

Mr. Zardari shows no signs that he is stepping into that role diffidently. In an interview last Saturday with The Wall Street Journal, held under tight security at a midtown Manhattan hotel, he crafted his phrases in a tone of command. Pakistan’s war, he says, is “my war,” its fighter jets “my F-16s,” its Intelligence Bureau “my IB.” When he discusses Pakistan’s economic crisis — the central bank has about two months’ worth of foreign currency reserves left to pay for the country’s imports of oil and food — he says he looks to the world to “give me $100 billion.”

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Zardari draws flak in Pakistan: Pakistan president’s remarks in his interview to WSJ that India is not a threat to his country and militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir are “terrorists,” have got him into trouble back home.

Zardari’s remarks run counter to the views held by Pakistan’s military establishment, which views India as a threat, and indicate a major shift in the country’s position vis-a-vis its neighbour. Former President Pervez Musharraf would more likely have called the militants in J&K “freedom fighters.”

India has welcomed Zardari’s statement. In Pakistan, opposition parties have threatened to raise the issue in Parliament.

Click here for BBC update: Fury over Zardari Kashmir comment

[Update] By the end of the day, Zardari backtracked on his comments. The Pakistan  government issued a statement:

“The President has made it very clear that the just cause of Kashmir and its struggle for self-determination has been a consistent central position of the PPP for forty years now. There is no change in that policy. He has never called the legitimate aspirations of Kashmiris an expression of terrorism, nor has he undermined the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. All other statements about India were in context of our current bilateral relations.”

Flirting with Palin earns Pakistani president a fatwa

From The Christian Science Monitor [via 3quarksdaily]:

NYTimes

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York. Photo: NYTimes

With some overly friendly comments to Gov. Sarah Palin at the United Nations, Asif Ali Zardari has succeeded in uniting one of Pakistan’s hard-line mosques and its feminists after a few weeks in office.

A radical Muslim prayer leader said the president shamed the nation for “indecent gestures, filthy remarks, and repeated praise of a non-Muslim lady wearing a short skirt.”

Feminists charged that once again a male Pakistani leader has embarrassed the country with sexist remarks. And across the board, the Pakistani press has shown disapproval.

More here and below:

Pakistani Leader Repeats a Long Debunked Hoax

From The New York Times:

The president of Pakistan apparently believes an Internet hoax alleging that Oliver L. North warned of the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden 20 years ago.

President Asif Ali Zardari, in an interview with the Fox News Channel that was televised on Tuesday, claimed that Mr. North installed a security system for his home in the late 1980s “because he was ‘scared of Osama bin Laden.’ “

That rumor emerged on the Internet shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It has been thoroughly debunked by a number of reliable sources, including the United States Senate’s Web site and Mr. North himself.

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Zardari to Palin: You’re gorgeous

From the New York Times:

NYTimes

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York. Photo: NYTimes

Ever since Senator John McCain made Ms. Sarah Palin the first woman to serve on a Republican presidential ticket, pundits and politicians have been walking on eggshells for fear of saying anything about her that might come off as sexist. But in an exchange captured by television cameras on Wednesday, Ms. Palin was greeted by Asif Ali Zardari, the new president of Pakistan, and a delegation of Pakistani officials.

“I am honored to meet you,” Ms. Palin said.

“You are even more gorgeous than you are on the (inaudible),” Mr. Zardari said.

“You are so nice,” Ms. Palin replied. “Thank you.”

“Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you,” Mr. Zardari continued. At which point an aide told the two to shake hands.

“I’m supposed to pose again,” Ms. Palin said.

“If he’s insisting,” Mr. Zardari said, “I might hug.”

And then the newspaper has this exchange between Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani information minister, and Sarah Palin:

“Busy on the campaign trail?” she asked the governor.

“Yes, yes,” Ms. Palin replied.

“How does one keep looking that good?” Ms. Rehman asked.

“Oh, oh, thank you,” the governor replied.

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Palin’s first meeting with a head of state was with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Here’s the NYT report: A television news producer who was allowed in the room for the brief photograph, or “spray,” reported that Mr. Karzai spoke of the birth of his first child last year.

Reuters

Afghan President Hamid Karzai with Sarah Palin. Photo: Reuters

“What is his name?” Ms. Palin asked.

“Mirwais,” Mr. Karzai replied. “Mirwais, which means, ‘The Light of the House.’ “

“Oh nice,” Palin responded, at one point patting her heart.

“He is the only one we have,” Mr. Karzai said.

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Zardari and the Surrey mansion

Dropped corruption case may free up mansion cash for Pakistan president. From The Guardian:

For more than 10 years a Surrey mansion, put on the market for £8.5m by its new owners, has been the most visible symbol of the corruption charges that have stalked Asif Ali Zardari, the new president of Pakistan, and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. But since Bhutto’s assassination last December and his improbable transformation from former prisoner to head of state, the saga of Rockwood House may soon be resolved.

Once the final legal details are sorted out, Zardari can expect to pocket around £3m from the property’s earlier sale, which occurred in 2004 after it had been put into the hands of a liquidator.

That sum will be on top of the $60m (£32m) in frozen assets released to him by the Swiss authorities a month ago. Geneva prosecutors were obliged to drop their money-laundering investigation at the request of Zardari’s government.

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‘Whoever killed Benazir wants to kill me’

In The Spectator, Christina Lamb interviews the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari:

On the wall above Asif Ali Zardari’s dining table in Islamabad is a framed copy of a letter. The handwriting is small and neat and it looks nothing special but he frequently grabs it from the wall to show to visitors. For on this piece of paper rests the remarkable rise of the man for years vilified as Mr Ten Percent, who this weekend looks set to become Pakistan’s President.

The letter is written by his late wife Benazir Bhutto, and dated 16 October 2007, two days before her return to Pakistan from exile, and 11 weeks before her assassination. Addressed to supporters of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to be opened in the event of her death, she wrote it at her home in Dubai shortly after receiving a delegation from foreign intelligence services warning her she would be killed if she went back. ‘I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best,’ it states. ‘I say this because he is a man of courage and honour. He spent 11 and a half years in prison without bending despite torture.’

‘You see,’ he said to me over lunch at his house last month, as he jabbed at the text. ‘She knew I was the only one with the strength to hold it all together.’

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Bhutto widower with clouded past is set to lead

Asif Ali Zardari will start his tenure as Pakistan’s president burdened by unproven corruption allegations. Jane Perlez in the New York Times:

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is set to become president on Saturday, an accidental ascent for a man known more as a wheeler-dealer than a leader. He will start his tenure burdened by a history of corruption allegations that cloud his reputation even as they remain unproved.

Though he has won the reluctant support of the Bush administration, which views him as a willing partner in the campaign against terrorism, Mr. Zardari will assume the presidency with what many consider untested governing skills as a tough Taliban insurgency threatens the very fabric of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state of 165 million people.

It remains to be seen how forcefully he will act against militants in the face of Pakistani public opposition to American pressure. Nor is it clear how much influence he exerts over the still powerful military and the nation’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

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Dynastic excesses make Zardari Pakistan’s new president

John Elliott on his blog, Riding the Elephant:

His rise to the top began in the 1980s when he was a Karachi playboy, well known and popular on the polo party circuit. He came from a little known family based in the Bhutto family’s home area of Lakarna, and was selected by Bhutto’s aunt as a safe arranged-marriage husband.

People who knew him before his marriage say little against him. But his reputation has been in continual decline since then. In addition to widely believed allegations of corruption, he was also accused of authorising the murder of Benazir’s brother in 1996 – which, of course, he denied. He spent eight years in jail on corruption charges but was released in 2004 as a result of talks between General Pervez Musharraf and Bhutto. The charges have now been waived.

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Charlatans of democracy

Triumphalism over a Musharraf impeachment won’t hide the failings of Pakistan’s ruling coalition. Fatima Bhutto in The Guardian:

Fatima Bhutto

Fatima Bhutto

The murky abyss of Pakistani politics has been especially murky over recent months, and true to form it just keeps getting murkier. The one thing that is absolute when dealing with the dregs that run my country is this: nothing is ever as it seems. Nowhere is that more true than in the current scenario involving President Musharraf’s likely impeachment by the ruling coalition.

“It has become imperative to move for impeachment,” barked Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Zardari, at a press conference in Islamabad last week. Sitting beside the new head of the Pakistan People’s party was Nawaz Sharif, twice formerly prime minister of Pakistan. Zardari snarled every time Musharraf’s name came up, seething with political rage and righteousness, while Sharif did his best to keep up with the pace of things. He nodded sombrely and harrumphed every once in a while. The two men are acting for democracy, you see. And impeaching dictators is a good thing for democracies, you know.

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Musharraf will be gone in days

The Pakistani president is likely to quit soon. But don’t expect democracy to rush in: the military’s habits die hard. Tariq Ali in The Guardian:

Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

There is never a dull moment in Pakistan. As the country moved from a moth-eaten dictatorship to a moth-eaten democracy the celebrations were muted. Many citizens wondered whether the change represented a forward movement.

Five months later, the moral climate has deteriorated still further. All the ideals embraced by the hopeful youth and the poor of the country – political morality, legality, civic virtue, food subsidies, freedom and equality of opportunity – once again lie at their feet, broken and scattered. The widower Bhutto and his men are extremely unpopular. The worm-eaten tongues of chameleon politicians and resurrected civil servants are on daily display. Removing Musharraf, who is even more unpopular, might win the politicians badly-needed popular support, but not for long.

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Where’s the money?

Benazir Bhutto’s widower is accusing President Musharraf of siphoning off millions from aid intended to support war on terror. Christina Lamb reports from Islamabad in The Sunday Times:

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari

The embattled president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, has been dealt his latest and most serious blow with the accusation from the leader of the ruling party that he misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars of American aid given for supporting the war on terror.

Asif Ali Zardari, who took over the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December last year, made the charge in an interview with The Sunday Times.

He also detailed for the first time Musharraf’s attempts to sabotage his government which, he says, forced him to take the drastic step of demanding his impeachment.

“Our grand old Musharraf has not been passing on all the $1 billion [£520m] a year that the Americans have been giving for the armed forces,” he claimed. “The army has been getting $250m-$300m reimbursement for what they do, but where’s the rest?

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The lawyer’s crusade

James Traub in the New York Times Magazine

In April, on the highway outside the little Punjabi town of Renala Khurd, Aitzaz Ahsan was waylaid by a crowd of seemingly deranged lawyers. The advocates, who wore black suits, white shirts and black ties, were not actually insane; they just seemed that way because they were so overcome with excitement at greeting the mastermind of Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement, perhaps the most consequential outpouring of liberal, democratic energy in the Islamic world in recent years. The 62-year-old Ahsan was on his way to address the bar association of Okara, 10 miles away, but the lawyers, and the farmers and shopkeepers gathered with them, were not about to let him leave. They boiled around the car, shouting slogans. “Who should our leaders be like?” they cried. “Like Aitzaz!” And, “How many are prepared to die for you?” “Countless! Countless!”

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In the name of the father

In Tehelka, William Dalrymple writes that Fatima Bhutto’s journey to unmask her father Murtaza Bhutto’s killers has her standing between PM-in-waiting Asif Ali Zardari and his ‘clean’ record

AS THE CONVOY neared home, the street lights were abruptly turned off. The police snipers were ready in position; some had climbed up the trees lining the avenue to get clear shots. Their guns were loaded, the roadblocks had been erected, the surrounding lanes sealed off. The guards outside the different embassies nearby had been told to retreat within their compounds in expectation of trouble. By nine o’clock, all 80 police were in position, commanded by four senior officers. There was complete silence, but for the occasional buzz of static on the police radios.

It was September 20, 1996, and Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir’s younger brother, was returning late from campaigning in a distant part of Karachi. He had come home to Pakistan the previous year after a long period in exile to challenge his more famous sister for a role in the leadership of the family party, the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP. Benazir was then the prime minister, and Murtaza’s decision to take her on had put him into direct conflict not only with his sister, but also with her ambitious and powerful husband, Asif Ali Zardari.

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