Credit Where Due

The past week has held moments of great pride for our country. No matter what political party you prefer, all have come together united as Pakistan to put forward a historic bill to restore democracy to the nation. This was not the work of any one man or party, but the cooperation of all. Still, it must be said that by pushing forward a bill that would limit his own power, Asif Ali Zardari has put his country first and made an admirable sacrifice. It is heartening to see even The News write some words of praise for him.

The man who has borne the brunt of media and public attack as one who may have been involved in massive corruption, and as a controversial figure bent upon running most matters of state with his close aides, has made it clear he hopes to walk into history as a hero. In his third address to a joint session of parliament, Asif Ali Zardari called on it to undo the 17th Amendment – and by doing so restore democracy in its true spirit. The sight of a man calling for his own powers to be taken away is a rare one indeed. Whatever else one may say, Mr Zardari deserves credit for magnanimously relinquishing the extraordinary powers handed over to one man by distorting the Constitution. It is also true though that he did so under some pressure. The situation that will arise now will not be welcomed by all. Persuading parliament to act in a particular way is far harder than making one individual do so. There are elements who opposed the idea of powers being stripped from the president. Tampering with democracy becomes a far harder task in the future.

Mr Zardari also spoke of standing in the shadows of his late father-in-law and wife and continuing their legacy. This is no small aspiration. He must remember that the success of the PPP is linked to its standing with the people. The promise made to them by the party’s founders lives on. And if he is to emerge as a knight in shining armour in the eyes of the people, it is this connection with the masses that the president must strive to resurrect. For the present it stands broken. Despondency hovers everywhere; the allegations of corruption fan it on and people have increasingly lost faith in their leadership. It would also be wise for the president to remember the last year and a half, during which he has held office, has resulted in his standing tumbling in the eyes of people. Speeches to parliament alone, no matter how eloquently worded, will not restore this. We need to see action as well. Once the 18th Amendment is passed, much of the responsibility for this will rest with parliament. But in his role as head of state and of his party, the president too needs to lead the way and demonstrate that he is committed to living up to the words he delivered before a nation that hopes to see real change.

Obviously, this is not the end of the road for Zardari, and he has much work left to do. The 18th Amendment is not a magic talisman that will cure all ills. But it is an admirable move and Zardari deserves some praise, even if you do not support him in other areas.

As the bill is being debates in the NA, let us hope for a smooth passage and a speedy return to democratic power sharing. Let us also hope for more of the leadership we have seen from our President on this issue carried over to other areas as well. Because this episode proves that when we tear each other down, we will only find rubble; but when we work together, we can acheive greatness.

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