‘Zardari TV’ won’t restore People’s Party or media freedom

Zardari Bol TVAsif Ali Zardari has become the second former president to find a new career in media after Gen Musharraf was announced as having a new show last month. Just like when the former military dictators show was announced, the civilian politician’s announcement was also met with jokes on social media.

Some PPP supporters were not impressed with the move.

Others are making the more obvious point about Zardari joining none other than the controversial Bol TV.

However, this last point may be the point completely. Pakistan media has been under extreme pressure from GHQ which has only increased since arrival of new COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa. What better way to counter allegations of Army censorship than to have someone like Asif Zardari appear on a channel allegedly supported by agencies? Surely no one can accuse Zardari of being an establishment stooge.

It is true that Zardari is no establishment stooge, but it is also true that the former president is well known as an excellent politician who knows ‘the art of the deal’. PPP has seen its fortunes steadily sinking since its historic losses in 2013. Since that time, the party has been grasping as any opportunity to reinvent itself away from ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makaan’ to some sort of generic political party with a broader middle class appeal. Bilawal was rebooted as Kashmir mujahid, party leaders came out in support of military courts by blaming civilian institutions, and the party that has stood strongest for religious minorities has shown weakness on important issues like forced conversion. Zardari is no stooge, but does seem like PPP leaders have been taking some very bad advise and now are once again trying to be overly clever by taking the opportunity to get on TV in exchange for providing cover for Army’s media managers.

Whatever the true reasoning is impossible to know, and those who actually know will never tell it. What we can be sure of is that the antidote for military media managers is not political media managers. In this era of ‘fake news’ and media manipulation, it is becoming harder and harder to know what is true. The solution is to increase the number of professional journalists who are investigating and reporting the facts without ideological bias. Adding more politicians to the mix only adds to the confusion, which is something neither People’s Party nor media cannot afford.

Reality Check

zardari-speech

PPP may have faded in recent polls, but party co-Chairman Asif Zardari brought the party firmly back into the spotlight with a fiery speech that lashed out at the security establishment for overstepping its domain. If Zardari’s rhetoric was over the top, it has been outdone by hyperventilating media responses terming the speech as ‘declaring war on the military‘. I think a reality check is needed. Ejaz Haider noted that, with the current Rangers operations expanding in Sindh, “Zardari finds himself in a bind. He could act meek or throw down the gauntlet”. Zardari is many things, but “meek” is not one of his better known traits. Even though, he spent five years as President taking all manner of attacks against his party and himself. Only now is he really lashing out. Whether or not this is a wise political strategy only time will tell, but underestimating the PPP co-Chairman has never been a good bet. This time may be no different.

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Zardari scores a sixer in New York

Pakistan shined in the international spotlight today. While our boys were scoring boundaries at Pallekele, President Zardari was hitting sixes at the UN General Assembly in New York City. His speech, delivered early this morning, presented an image of Pakistan as a global leader – one that seeks to bridge the cultural and political divides that agents provocateurs are actively trying to widen. Most importantly, he represented Pakistan on the world stage by directly answering misleading information and offering an authentic message from the Pakistani people.

President Zardari began his speech by getting straight to the heart of recent events and expressing the strongest condemnation of acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved prophet, Mohammad (PBUH).

Actually, President Zardari had already conveyed Pakistan’s concerns over the anti-Islam film that sparked protests around the world. But it was before the gathering of world leaders that the president made a difference. After registering Pakistan’s official protest and condemnation of the offensive act, President Zardari did not take a confrontational tone, but a tone of reconciliation.

Pakistan moves the United Nations to immediately address this alarming concern and bridge the widening rift to enable the comity of nations to be one again.

In this statement, President Zardari exemplified the mercy and forgiveness inherent to Islam. He did not condone the offensive act, and neither did he shrink from addressing it directly. But once the issue was addressed, he pointed to a path that could bring the world’s nations back together, defeating the wicked intentions of the filmmaker and the cynical opportunists who sought to profit from it.

While the offensive film has dominated headlines, it is hardly the only issue to be addressed. President Zardari addressed the plight of the Palestinians, the right of the people of Jammu & Kashmir to choose their own destiny. He spoke out about drone strikes and the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in the epic struggle against terrorism.

While doing so, President Zardari gave a full and unapologetic defence of Pakistan, decaring to the gathered world leaders, “I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.”

The people of Pakistan have already answered them.

The politicians of Pakistan have answered them.

The soldiers of Pakistan have answered them.

We have lost over seven thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen, and over 37,000 civilians.

We have lost our Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and my friend Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of our most populous province of Punjab, to the mindset of extremism.

And I need not remind my friends here today, that I bear a personal scar.

On December 27, 2007 knowing her life was under threat from the mindset she had warned the world against, Pakistan’s first elected woman leader and my wife Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was martyred through the bullets and bombs of terrorists.

Terrorism and extremism have destroyed human lives, torn social fabric, and devastated the economy.

Our economy, our lives, our ability to live in the shadow of our Sufi saints and our freedom-loving forefathers have been challenged.

We have responded.

Our soldiers have responded.

So I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.

The room was stunned by such a powerful address, and many could not help but be reminded of the famous speech delivered by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1971 when President Zardari spoke these words:

To those who say we have not done enough, I say in all humility:

Please do not insult the memory of our dead, and the pain of our living.

Do not ask of my people, what no one has ever asked of any other peoples.

Do not demonize the innocent women, and children of Pakistan.

And please, stop this refrain to do more.

But here was the most amazing part of his speech. As the room filled with the most powerful men and women in the world was finally awoken from their slumber, President Zardari did not take the familiar path of defiance and isolation. He did not repeat George Bush’s mistake of isolating and alienating the nation by blaming and villanising others. Instead, once again, he showed the world that cooperation, connectivity, and mutual respect could find win-win solutions that ‘make us stakeholders in each other’s futures’.

In Pakistan, the lesson we learned, from the last thirty years, is that history cannot be changed.

But the future can — a future that is brighter, more prosperous and more secure, not only for Pakistanis, but for all people of the region, and indeed the world.

Standing before the entire United Nations, President Zardari was the leader showing the world the way to peace.

Transcript of President Zardari’s Speech before UN General Assembly

H.E.President Asif Ali Zardari
President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
General Debate 67th Session
United Nations General Assembly
September 25, 2012

 

Bismilla hirrahmaan irrahim —

Assalam-o-Alaikum — Peace be upon you.

Before I take up my speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved prophet, Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

Although we can never condone violence, the International community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.

Pakistan moves the United Nations to immediately address this alarming concern and bridge the widening rift to enable the comity of nations to be one again.

Mr. President,

I want to congratulate you on your election to this important post.

I want to convey our appreciation of the previous President, His Excellency Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, from our brotherly state of Qatar, who skillfully preceded you.

I would like to further express our appreciation for the laudable work of the honorable Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. We greatly appreciate his leadership in guiding the work of this organization.

It is a special privilege to be with you today, representing the brave and courageous people of Pakistan.

Globally, we face enormous challenges.

But with collective efforts and commitment we can provide a better future to our people.

We must work to end poverty.

We must work to protect the planet, and mitigate climate change.

We must ensure equal rights to all peoples, and protect the weak & vulnerable.

We must pursue justice and fairness for all people.

We must pursue the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

We must save our current and future generations from the horrors of war.

I think of my own three children and the generations of children yet unborn.

They, and all the children of the world, deserve safety, stability, and security.

These goals have guided me throughout my four years in office as President of Pakistan.

These are the goals and principles about which I want to talk to you today.

Mr. President,

Pakistan’s engagement with the United Nations lies at the heart of these goals.

We are proud of going above and beyond the call of duty in fulfilling our international responsibilities.

Pakistan has consistently been among the top UN peacekeeping troop contributors for many years.

Today, over 10,000 Pakistani troops proudly wear the UN Blue Helmets in the service of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Mr. President,

Our election to the Security Council reflects our commitment to world peace.

It is also a vote of confidence by the international community for Pakistan.

The UN represents our common aspirations for peace and development.

However, it needs reform.

The UN system must become more democratic and more accountable.

Reform should be based on consensus and democratic principles.

Mr. President,

In the last several years, Pakistan has repeatedly suffered from natural calamities.

The people of Pakistan appreciate the support of the United Nations and the international community.

Mr. President,

Being a democratic country, we believe that legitimate aspirations of any people should be accommodated peacefully.

And in a manner consistent with sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

We support the rights of the Palestinian people and an independent Palestinian State.

We also favor the admission of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.

Mr. President,

There are a lot of questions that are asked of Pakistan these days.

I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan have already answered them.

The politicians of Pakistan have answered them.

The soldiers of Pakistan have answered them.

We have lost over seven thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen, and over 37,000 civilians.

We have lost our Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and my friend Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of our most populous province of Punjab, to the mindset of extremism.

And I need not remind my friends here today, that I bear a personal scar.

On December 27, 2007 knowing her life was under threat from the mindset she had warned the world against, Pakistan’s first elected woman leader and my wife Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was martyred through the bullets and bombs of terrorists.

Terrorism and extremism have destroyed human lives, torn social fabric, and devastated the economy.

Our economy, our lives, our ability to live in the shadow of our Sufi saints and our freedom-loving forefathers have been challenged.

We have responded.

Our soldiers have responded.

So I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.

I am here to ask some questions on behalf of my people.

On behalf of the two year old baby who was killed in the bombing at Lahore’s Moon Market on December 7, 2009.

On behalf of Pervaiz Masih, a Christian Pakistani, who was killed with six others, trying to protect Muslim Pakistanis during a bomb attack on the Islamic University in Islamabad on October 20, 2009.

On behalf of Mr. GHA-YOOR, the Commandant of the Frontier Constabulary police force in Peshawar, who was martyred by militants on August 4, 2010.

On behalf of the traders and businessmen in Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore and Karachi, of the dozens of marketplaces that have been ravaged by multiple bombings. Over and over and over again.

And perhaps most of all, on behalf of my three children, whose mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was also martyred by terrorists.

Mr. President,

For more than thirty years, our doors have been open to my Afghan brothers and sisters.

For many years, we were left to fend for ourselves and our Afghan guests.

Mr. President,

I remember the red carpet that was rolled out for all the dictators in our country – dictators who promised the international community the moon – while Pakistan was kept in the dark.

These dictators and their regimes are responsible for suffocating and throttling Pakistan, Pakistan’s institutions, and Pakistani democracy.

I remember the judicial execution of Pakistan’s first elected leader, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

I remember the jailing of Pakistan’s elected leaders.

I remember the twelve years I, myself spent in prison.

And I remember the billions provided by the international community to support those dictatorships.

My country’s social fabric, its very character has been altered.

Our condition today is a product of dictatorships.

Mr. President,

No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism, than Pakistan.

Drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for hearts and minds through this epic struggle.

To those who say we have not done enough, I say in all humility:

Please do not insult the memory of our dead, and the pain of our living.

Do not ask of my people, what no one has ever asked of any other peoples.

Do not demonize the innocent women, and children of Pakistan.

And please, stop this refrain to do more.

The simplest question of all is:

How much more suffering can Pakistan endure?

Mr. President,

I am sure the international community does not want any suffering anywhere, least of all in Pakistan.

We believe in fact, that the international community is a partner.

This is because it is the common interest of all nations to work together.

In Pakistan, I have helped bring about a major strategic shift in how we view working together.

Within Pakistan, our democracy has brought about major changes.

InshaAllah, this will be the first civilian government in Pakistan’s sixty-six year history to complete its full, five year term.

In this time, Parliament has passed unprecedented reforms.

We have restored the consensus 1973 Constitution.

The National Assembly has enacted wide ranging social reforms.

We have established a National Commission on Women and a National Commission on Human Rights.

We have established for the very first time a truly Independent Election Commission, to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

Our media is free, uncensored and thriving.

Our civil society is flourishing under the protection of democracy.

We have created the first social safety net through the women of Pakistan for the weak and less privileged. Millions of families have benefitted.

We have aided the poor and at the same time empowered the women of our households.

This safety net is called the Benazir Income Support Program.

These are the gifts of democracy.

This is the dream of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. President,

The growing regional pivot in Pakistan’s foreign policy is a reflection of our democratic policy-making.

In engaging with our region, we are changing the future.

In China our strategic partnership is growing from strength to strength.

In Afghanistan, we have begun to engage and deepen our friendship with the entire range of the Afghan political spectrum.

We believe that a sovereign, stable and secure Afghanistan is good for the Afghan people.

And what is good for the Afghan people is good for Pakistan.

While our hearts and homes remain open to our Afghan brothers, it is imperative that the international community support the three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan in their quest to return home with dignity.

A brighter Afghan future will only be possible when the search for peace is Afghan-owned, Afghan-driven and Afghan-led.

We respect and support the efforts of the Government of Afghanistan for reconciliation and peace.

Pakistan will support in every way possible, any process that reflects Afghan national consensus.

Similarly, we approach our relations with India on mutual trust.

The contacts between our leadership are expanding.

I was encouraged by my discussions with the Prime Minister of India last month in Tehran, who I met for the fifth time in four years.

Mr. President,

Our principled position on territorial disputes remains a bedrock of our foreign policy.

We will continue to support the right of the people of Jammu & Kashmir to peacefully choose their destiny in accordance with the UN Security Council’s long-standing resolutions on this matter.

Kashmir remains a symbol of the failures, rather than strengths of the UN system.

We feel that resolution of these issues can only be arrived in an environment of cooperation.

By normalizing trade relations we want to create a regional South Asian narrative.

This narrative will provide an environment that will mutually benefit the countries of our region.

Mr. President,

Along this road, there are pitfalls.

One of them is the tendency to respond to failure through blame.

Pakistan does not blame others for the challenges it faces.

We believe we should look for win-win solutions.

Regional cooperation and connectivity will bring us closer and bind us together.

It will make us stakeholders in each other’s futures.

Our hosting of a quadrilateral summit next month and our signing of the Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement

are proof of this commitment to regional connectivity.

In Pakistan, the lesson we learned, from the last thirty years, is that history cannot be changed.

But the future can — a future that is brighter, more prosperous and more secure,

not only for Pakistanis, but for all people of the region, and indeed the world.
Mr. President:

I must thank the member states of the European Union for recognizing the value of trade to Pakistan.

We seek trade, rather than aid.

By granting trade concession to Pakistan, the EU has sent a positive message.

The trade concessions will help us revive the economy and fight terrorism.

Mr. President,

As we embark on this ambitious transformative experience, we are aware that there are threats and pitfalls.

One of them is the spread and illegal trade of heroin.

Despite the presence of international forces in Afghanistan, the size of the heroin trade has increased by 3000% in the last decade.

The heroin industry is eroding the social fabric of our societies.

Terrorist activities within our region and indeed all over the world are funded and fueled by the unrestricted production and sale of illegal drugs.

Pakistan has pursued an ambitious agenda to control this menace.

We are coordinating with our neighbors and will hold a conference later this year to develop a unified approach to stamping out this drug trade.

I call upon this august body, and especially those nations represented here who are actively engaged in the region.

In this great hall of international collective action, let us begin this process —

here, today, together.

Mr. President, Excellencies, delegates, fellow citizens of the world:

I have committed my Presidency and my nation’s future to a paradigm shift.

A permanent democratic future for Pakistan.

It has not been easy.

But nothing worth fighting for is easy.

We long ago stopped thinking of doing what is easy.

Instead, we have committed ourselves to doing what is right.

In that regard, I recall the powerful words of my beloved martyred wife and my leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto when she appeared before this august body sixteen years ago.

Her words ring out and can guide us into a new future.

She said in 1996:

“I dream of a third millennium in which the gap between rich and poor evaporates;

in which illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition and disease are at last conquered;

I dream of a third millennium in which every child is planned, wanted, nurtured and supported;

and in which the birth of a girl is welcomed with the same joy as that of a boy.

I dream of a millennium of tolerance and pluralism,
in which people respect other people, nations respect other nations,
and religions respect other religions.

That is the third millennium I see for my country and all of yours.”

We have made some progress towards achieving these goals.

But so much remains to be done.

In her memory and in the name of God Almighty, Pakistan commits to that path again today.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and may peace be upon you, and your countries, and the people of your countries.

Pakistan Zindabad.

Missing element from Feisal Naqvi’s “Antifragile” Democracy

Zardari signing 18th Amendment

Feisal Naqvi makes some good points in his latest piece for Express Tribune, ‘Making our democracy “antifragile”‘. As he correctly notes, concentration of power in the hands of one person is the antithesis of democracy, and creates a political environment in which authority resides in individuals and not institutions. Feisal uses several contemporary examples, but he leaves out other important elements also.

As an example of an institution that is improperly consolidating power into the hands of one individual, Feisal Naqvi points to the Supreme Court.

The desire to centralise power is not one which afflicts executive officials alone. The unanimity with which the Supreme Court now speaks is such that, according to one commentator, “not one judge in these four years [since the restoration of the CJP in 2008] has disagreed on a single point of law in a major constitutional case”. I agree entirely that this is a disturbing sign. Common law courts form a resilient, antifragile judicial system precisely because they allow for a multiplicity of views to exist before being slowly resolved over time. Views thus get thrashed out amongst different judges with different viewpoints. Good points and bad points both get slowly identified. And only the concentrated common sense of the judiciary eventually survives.

By contrast, what one sees quite often is a multiplicity of issues getting decided directly in the Supreme Court, and that, too, without dissent. This is not a healthy development. Dissent is a good thing because it is a sign of life, a sign of independent thinking, and more importantly, because today’s dissent can become tomorrow’s orthodoxy. More importantly, we need to give appropriate time for these issues to be examined in detail rather than simply seeking to address all aspects in one go.

It’s not only the Justices that are falling down on their job of properly weighing all views and engaging in healthy dissent. The Government Punjab also comes into his sights when he notes that “Mian Shahbaz Sharif held 18 portfolios in his own cabinet”.

Feisal Naqvi also criticises coalition parliamentarians for deferring to the President to nominate a replacement Prime Minister rather than working to find a consensus candidate. There are several valid complaints to be made about parliament, but this one might be a little bit unfair. When parliament adopted a consensus approach to developing a new set of terms for renegotiating relations with the US, the process dragged on for weeks beyond the original deadline. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not offer the luxury of time in choosing a new Prime Minister as their Lordships in their infinite wisdom rendered the nation leaderless since the past two months!

What Feisal Naqvi’s otherwise good piece was really missing, though, was an acknowledgment of what progress has been made towards sharing responsibility “across persons and institutions in the way that the burdens of democracy are meant to be shared”. Ironically, the person who has probably done more to advance Feisal Naqvi’s vision is none other than President Zardari himself.

In 2009, President Zardari voluntarily returned control over the nation’s nuclear assets – a power usurped by a military dictator – to the Prime Minister. In 2010, President Zardari signed the 18th Amendment bill that went even further in reducing his own powers as well as devolving many responsibilities from the Federal to the Provincial governments. The extraordinary nature of this act – a sitting president voluntarily returning powers that had been usurped by dictators – was noticed throughout the world.

In his 2011 Address to the joint session of Parliament, President Zardari thanked Allah for guiding him to reduce the concentration of power in the government and to spread responsibility among institutions.

Returning power from dictators to the people was the core of our promise.

Rarely in history has a leader abdicated power by his own free will.

My head bows in gratitude before Allah, for giving me the strength, to give up powers that had been usurped by dictators.

Actually, the 18th Amendment which devolved powers and shared responsibility was passed unanimously by parliament, and that institution deserves great credit. Actually, the only person against it was Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who was opposed to sharing the responsibility of selecting new Justices – he preferred to keep all that power consolidated in himself as if the Court were his personal fiefdom. Thankfully, reason – through the parliament – won the day.

Finally, though Feisal Naqvi touches on important responsibilities of government officials, he leaves out the responsibilities of citizens. I will not defend everything that parliament or President Zardari has done. Some I have agreed with and some I have disagreed with also. In a democracy it is our right to criticise our leaders when they fail us. But it is also our responsibility to recognise when they do things right. If we are unwilling to give parliament and Zardari their due, what incentive will the next group have for even trying?