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Rumours, rumours

President Asif Ali Zardari had not even reached Dubai when people started to speculate why he had 'left' Pakistan in such a hurry. The president was going to address the joint session of parliament after Ashura but now he had taken off just like that. News started to trickle in that Zardari had been taken ill suddenly and thus flown out to Dubai to get some tests done. President Asif Ali Zardari had not even reached Dubai when people started to speculate why he had 'left' Pakistan in such a hurry. The president was going to address the joint session of parliament after Ashura but now he had taken off just like that. News started to trickle in that Zardari had been taken ill suddenly and thus flown out to Dubai to get some tests done. 


Health over Power? Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari jetting off to 
Dubai gave rise to rumours that he was stepping down from office

In a country that is no stranger to palace intrigues, the president's sudden departure, even if for medical treatment, triggered rumours. Rumours of an impending coup started pouring in on social media websites. As if that was not enough, a story in Foreign Policy, speculating about the president being on his 'way out' of power, led the local Pakistani media to come up with one theory after another. It was as if a section of the media could not wait for Zardari's ouster. 

Speculations by the ignorant and ill-informed is one thing but the game gets dangerous once the motivated jump into the fray and start to spread all sorts of 'news'. The Prime Minister House finally issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the president "went to Dubai following symptoms related to his pre-existing heart condition". Mr Zardari's condition is now stable but it is likely that he will remain in the hospital for a few days. 

Apart from the irresponsible speculation going around, what was most disturbing was how some people had no qualms in wishing ill of (and for) the president. One is free to like or dislike an individual and/or have an opinion about someone, be it the president or the army chief. 

When one actually salivates at the thought of another human being's ill health and consequent developments, it is disgusting to say the least. It seems that some people have dumped their humanity in a garbage can and find nothing wrong with justifying such 'thoughts', if they can indeed be called that. We should really be worried about this rising moral decay in our society. 

In his television programme 'Aapas ki Baat' on December 7, veteran journalist Najam Sethi said that there was more to it than just the president's illness. Sethi was of the opinion that the president is under pressure to resign but if push comes to shove, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) will take to the streets and play the 'Sindh card'. It all now depends on the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Memogate petition that is currently before it. If, somehow, the Supreme Court comes up with an adverse decision, Zardari will not quit come what may; the PPP will not take it lying down and without a fight. 

This does not bode well for democracy in Pakistan. It seems that we are almost on the verge of rolling back the democratic era that was ushered in after nine years of General Musharraf's military dictatorship. In the event something happens to this government, it is not yet clear whether there will be a 'Bangladesh Model,' with a military-backed government in place, or whether new elections will be called.

Those who are calling the shots in this entire saga are sitting safely ensconced in the GHQ in Rawalpindi. It is always these high and mighty generals who end up derailing the democratic system one way or the other.

Unfortunately, some from our political class end up betraying their counterparts in a bid to secure a place for themselves in the echelons of power. We have seen in the past how democratically elected governments were toppled after their rival political parties sought the help of the military establishment. In order to secure their own vested interests, they did exactly what the military top brass asked of them. 

This is something Pakistan can ill-afford again. Today, our economy is in doldrums, terrorists are out on the loose, sectarian conflict has reared its head again, the military's 'kill and dump' policy in Balochistan has escalated the separatist sentiment in the province, minorities are being target killed and there is a possibility of a confrontation with the world's sole superpower. The future of Pakistan looks bleak. Without a strong democracy in place, we cannot overturn the tide of crises. If the political class do not pay heed to the signs and fail to stand united, the ensuing damage to democracy in Pakistan would be too complex to be undone.

The writer is Op-Ed editor, Daily Times, Pakistan. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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