Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who assumed office in September 2008, is facing tough times. He is on a mysterious tour to Dubai, apparently to receive medical treatment but rumor mills are in full swing about his resignation and self-imposed exile. His career, if it actually ends, is a story of empty promises and gross violation of constitution. Even if the rumors are untrue, he needs to go because he has jeopardized the already fragile political structure of Pakistan.
Zardari rose to prominence after marrying Benazir Bhutto in 1987. Unlike Bhutto, who came from a major feudal family, his was an upwardly mobile urban-rural extraction. His father Hakim Ali Zardari owned a cinema in Karachi and had some agricultural lands. Being an opportunist, the family sided with those in power and reaped great benefits in return. Hakim initially supported the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq, who had deposed Bhutto's father Zulfikar in 1977.
Hakim not only returned to Bhutto's party when the latter's prospects brightened but was astute enough to get his son married to Benazir. Junior Zardari was involved in his father's business then and had no political experience. Taking a lead from his dad, he bagged the position of a minister in Bhutto's cabinet. Around that time, stories started making rounds of his penchant for taking commissions in government deals -- hence the name Mr. Ten Percent.
He was a minister and senator in Bhutto's second cabinet as well. During this time, he got a polo ground built in the prime minister's house with air-conditioned stables and imported fodder. Pakistanis were taken aback by the luxuries the polo ponies were enjoying when the subsequent administration displayed the stables on national television.
Zardari got arrested on corruption charges as soon as the Bhutto administration was sacked in 1996 and remained incarcerated until 2004. He led a politically inactive life during the next few years, vacationing at his French chateau and residing in a luxury East Side apartment and in a Dubai mansion. It was not until December 2007 when he returned to Pakistan after the assassination of his wife.
On account of a controversial will, he became the co-chairman of his wife's party. Riding a wave of sympathy vote -- and thanks to a general amnesty -- he became the president of Pakistan. Interestingly enough, the amnesty was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court but had no impact on him.
The first major violation of the constitution of Pakistan came even before the inauguration. The country follows almost the same constitutional framework as India where the president is the head of the state but enjoys little administrative powers and is required to maintain an air of impartiality. It is the prime minister who is the head of the government. Zardari, however, remained the co-chairman of his party and hosted party meetings at the president's house. The practice continues to this day.
As if that was not enough, he started addressing public gatherings and made many an inflammatory statements. This set a new precedent in Pakistan where elected presidents have largely remained true to their constitutional duties. No one can even think of doing that in India where even a minor political statement by a president can cause a major storm.
His unconstitutional powers also fooled the Americans, who still turn to him when things go bad. We hear the words "Zardari administration" in international media where it should have been the "Gilani administration," Gilani being the Prime Minster of Pakistan and the actual head of government. Poor Gilani, however, is content with whatever little power he has and thinks of Zardari as his godfather.
Lame Pakistani opposition parties have contributed to Zardari's ascendancy. Instead of challenging his powers in the Supreme Court and bringing one impeachment move after another; they have accommodated him. Pakistanis call Nawaz Sharif, who heads the largest opposition party, Zardari's brother and his party "friendly opposition." Pakistanis hold Zardari responsible for their woes and are justified in the sense that he is the man running the show. According to an estimate, as many as 40 percent Pakistanis have been pushed under the poverty line during the last five years.
It is common Pakistanis who have suffered at the hands of their leaders -- both civil and military. While they have no say over the latter, they can still show the door to Zardari and his cronies. It is about time the civil society launch a constitutional battle in the Supreme Court and force their elected representatives to impeach Zardari. That clown of a president needs to go. And the international community should get on the right side of the fence instead of propping up an "elected dictator."