- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It was feared Pakistan would descend into corruption and mismanagement following its recent elections. It hasn’t happened and Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deserves much of the credit.

As an election observer with the Center for Media and Democracy-Pakistan I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Zardari shortly after the election and I was struck by a number of things. The most obvious, and surprising, was his almost total lack of bitterness. He had spent 11 years in prison on charges that ultimately were dropped.

A desire to seek retribution against the people who put or kept him there would have been understandable. “There are things that have to be done for Pakistan that need to be attended to immediately,” he said. “I don’t have time for it.”

Ahmed Raza Qasuri, a prominent attorney and supporter of President Musharraf said later:

“If he had behaved like a madman after the election, I think the people would have understood, especially after the murder of his wife. Instead, after having suffered so much personally, he has been a statesman, and I think it is largely thanks to that that things have gone as smoothly as they have.”

Mr. Zardari outlined some ambitious and forward-looking goals. He was concerned not only with jobs, shelter, clothing, food and education for the people of Pakistan, but with totally reforming the country, politically, economically and socially. I could sense a firm determination to meet those goals.

Mr. Zardari shook my hand warmly, and returned to another in a seemingly endless series of meetings as his Pakistan People’s Party planned the incoming administration.

Mr. Zardari selected competent people without any serious taint of corruption for top jobs in the new government. This has since eased the shift of power from President Pervez Musharraf to Parliament. The election was a crushing defeat for the PML-Q, the party most closely associated with Mr. Musharraf.

One Western “expert” after another predicted that Mr. Musharraf would send the National Assembly home rather than accept a reduced role in governance. “Reducing his role was never what concerned the president,” one of his close associates told me. “Do you think Musharraf has really enjoyed politics? The main reason he has been hesitant to cede power has been concern over how responsible the people he would be ceding it to would be,” he added.

So far, Mr. Musharraf has publicly expressed confidence the country will continue to move forward under the new government. He has so far had a good working relationship with the new government, and has just returned from a successful trip to China with the new foreign and defense ministers. He has not expressed any private concerns about the government to any of the close confidants I have spoken to.

Mr. Zardari’s PPP, meanwhile, shown no inclination to seek a showdown with the president, and has made it clear Mr. Musharraf’s removal is not a priority.

Concerns in the United States that Mr. Zardari would pull Pakistan out of the War on Terror have also proved ill-founded. It is true the PPP government is going to de-emphasize military operations in the areas bordering Afghanistan. However, it is doing so not because it is soft on terror but because military operations alone have not been effective. As a result, the government is essentially launching a social offensive, to clean up the festering problems that provide fertile ground for the recruiters of terrorists.

So far, so good, thanks largely to Mr. Zardari.

Thomas Houlahan is an associate of the Center for Security and Science.


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