The most common thing in Pakistan, apart from conspiracy theories, is Zardari-bashing. To blame Mr Zardari for all the ills that befell our country is easy but at the same time it is wrong and unfair. The reason he tops the list of the most unpopular leaders in Pakistan’s history is because a concerted campaign was started against him by the military establishment and its lackeys from the moment he got married to Benazir Bhutto.
It was not just to malign him as an individual but also to tarnish his wife’s name in the process. He spent more than eleven years in jail as a political prisoner. Imagine being away from your wife and young children for eleven and a half years, spending time in solitary confinement, being tortured only because you were married to the country’s most popular leader - a woman the military establishment feared like no other. Mr Zardari might not be a saint but then again, none of us are; yet he has suffered like no other.
President Asif Ali Zardari’s presidential term ended less than a week ago. Pakistan has a new president, Mr Mamnoon Hussain, but Mr Zardari will be remembered in golden words in our history despite an infinite number of critics. During the last five years, he was hounded by political opponents, the media, judiciary and the establishment but he showed great restraint in the face of adversity and carried on for the greater good of democracy.
Of course Zardari’s naysayers will say he did it for his own political survival and to protect himself but whatever his reasons may have been there is no denying that in the larger scheme of things, his actions strengthened the democratic process. Despite a weak economy, the energy crisis and terrorism, the one thing going for Pakistan is a stable democratic government at the helm of affairs - something that would not have been possible without Mr Zardari’s pragmatic . When even his worst critics are forced to say they would miss him, you know he did something right.
Renowned journalist Imtiaz Alam describes Mr Zardari as “a modern prince dedicated to constitutional rule”. No other democratically elected president in Pakistan has had the honour of completing his tenure and ensuring a successful democratic transition. In the spirit of democracy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hosted a farewell lunch for President Zardari.
He appreciated Mr Zardari’s role in a peaceful democratic transition and for wilfully giving up his powers. When Mr Zardari was being given guard of honour by the armed forces, it was a proud moment for all those who struggled for democracy in a country that finally saw its first ever democratic government complete its tenure after 66 years of independence. As senior journalist Talat Aslam (@titojourno) rightly pointed out in his tweet on the last day of Mr Zardari’s presidency: “Cynicism & party politics aside, today really is a remarkable day in Pakistan’s history. Never thought I’d live to see it happen.” Goodbye, Mr President. Long live democracy!
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org