London’s Financial Times looked at the first year of Zardari’s presidency and found that Pakistan’s president has defied expectations pushed by critics and doubters and has made significant progress in the country, leading it down a new path to progress.
As Pakistan’s president prepares for a summit next week in New York with US President Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, his country’s urgent financial needs are top of his mind.
He will use the meeting to secure greater international financial backing, arguing only this can deliver victory against Islamist militants and put the largely agrarian economy on a better footing. The former high-living businessman is fond of big numbers: he reckons the bill will come to somewhere between $50bn and $100bn.
Meeting Mr Obama and Mr Brown is about credibility as well as cash. When he came to office a year ago, many Pakistanis thought the widower of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister, would be lucky to last three months in the job. “People say that this is not a banana republic, but rather a mango republic. Who would have said six years ago that Asif Ali Zardari will become president?” asks Asma Jahangir, human rights lawyer.
Yet 12 months on, the US and its allies, despairing of the worsening situation in neighbouring Afghanistan, credit Mr Zardari with a chance of regenerating the state, reversing the militant advance and bringing stability to one of the most strategically important countries in the world.
Political commentators in Islamabad now predict that the man viewed as a hapless acolyte, tainted by corruption charges, may complete a rare full four-year term as an elected Pakistani leader. The country has reached a rare state of equilibrium between its accidental president, a half-competent prime minister, a head of the army prepared to stay in barracks and an opposition prepared to bide its time.
The cautious optimism is felt on the streets of Islamabad and Lahore, where fears of attack have receded, to financial markets, enjoying a modest recovery. Some of this is thanks to aid money and foreign investment. An $11.3bn International Monetary Fund rescue package is in place. Donors including the UK, Saudi Arabia and Japan have pledged a further $5.5bn; US Congress is poised to approve legislation providing $1.5bn a year.