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Pakistan: Asif Ali Zardari, President again
  • Asif Ali Zardari
    Asif Ali Zardari
Asked at the time of his marriage to Benazir Bhutto how he envisioned his own future, Asif Zardari replied, "In jail, or in the residence of the highest office of the state." And, as it turns out, he managed to do both. Born in Karachi in 1956 to one of the Sindh region's political dynasties, he attended the London School of Economics and became famous at home, however, more as a playboy and polo player than as a scholar. His youthful extravagances, such as the private discotheque and cinema he had built in his father's mansion or his numerous flirtations with screen stars and starlets, have filled the pages of Pakistan's gossip column for years. His wedding to Benazir Bhutto was celebrated in the country as if it were a royal wedding. Although, truth be told, no one at the time or later ever understood the political strategy pursued by Benazir's mother, then regent of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), in forging the alliance between the two families. No one seemed less suited than Asif Zardari, described even by his friends as generous, courageous but unbearably loud and arrogant, to play the role of prince consort to the future PPP queen. And Zardari, perhaps to avoid becoming "Mr. Bhutto," has indeed strived to shine in his own light. In his own way, however. He was first arrested in 1990, during the first Bhutto government, for blackmailing Pakistani-born British businessman Murtaza Bukhari. According to the charges, Bukhari had been kidnapped, had a remote-controlled bomb strapped to his leg, and had been sent to a bank to withdraw twelve million rupees from his bank account to be delivered to Asif. The charge cost him three years in jail. During the same period he and Benazir were charged with about nineteen counts of various offenses. In 1993, however, Benazir returned to power and appointed him minister of environment. These were the years when Zardari earned the nickname by which he is still known in Pakistan: Mr. Ten for Cent, from the amount of bribe he demanded for every transaction that passed through his offices or ministry. In 1996 he was accused of being behind the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza, Benazir's brother. Released, but accused of being the instigator of a couple more murders, he was eventually arrested for a deluge of charges rained down on him: for bribes, corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering, blackmail, and embezzlement. Charges fabricated by his political opponents, according to Zardari. But he has no explanation for the money-laundering charges brought against him by the U.S. Congress, for the money-laundering conviction imposed on him in Switzerland along with Benazir, for the five percent bribe demanded from Dassault ( and ascertained by French authorities) on the negotiation of aircraft for the Pakistani air force. As he has no explanation for the bribery trial against him in London, where the couple bought a princely residence with money of uncertain provenance. Released from prison in 2004 for heart problems, Zardari took refuge in the United States where, among other things, distinguished psychiatrists diagnosed him with depressive syndromes, memory lapses, suicidal mania and emotional instability. He returned to Pakistan after Bhutto's death in excellent health and on the strength of a letter in which the deceased entrusted him with the fate of the party. Elected co-chairman of the PPP along with his son Bilawal, he maneuvers unscrupulously, forging and breaking alliances and business relationships and alienating from the PPP all of Benazir's loyalists who saw him as the smoke in their eyes, until he gets himself nominated for the presidency of the country: in the name of democracy, to "fulfill Benazir's dream”. Democracy, far from having benefited Pakistan, seems to have unbearably exacerbated conflicts and contradictions that, not even in a long time, will eventually explode with consequences that are not entirely predictable. The population, for the most part, supports the present government while judging it to be inept, corrupt and a liar. They endure it as the lesser of evils, aware of the endemic corruption that permeates Pakistan's political class en bloc. As writer Tariq Ali summarized some time ago, "We have a gangster and a crook in government. When he is forced out of office, and it won't be long now, there is another cohort of hucksters, perhaps slightly less corrupt, ready to take his place."

Il verdetto che esce dalle urne pakistane nel febbraio 2008 è piuttosto scontato: la maggioranza va al Pakistan People’s Party, seguito a ruota dalla Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) dell’ex-premier Nawaz Sharif. Terza classificata, con un notevole distacco, la Pml(Q) che sosteneva, invece, il presidente Musharraf. La vittoria del Ppp non è stata così schiacciante come ci si aspettava, e anche questo era prevedibile: l’effetto-Benazir ha certamente avuto la sua importanza, ma alla fine ciò che conta sono i candidati e i membri del partito vivi. E questi non brillano di certo. Ad Asif Zardari, quindi, va il compito di formare il nuovo governo. Un governo ‘di larghe intese’, che si vede costretto a un matrimonio di interesse con l’acerrimo nemico di sempre: il Pml (N) di Sharif. La strana coppia formata da Zardari e Sharif ha in pratica soltanto un progetto comune e un punto di convergenza: governare il paese, finalmente. E questo nonostante sia Zardari che Sharif siano, di fatto, fuori dalla spartizione delle poltrone. Nessuno dei due è stato candidato, nessuno dei due ha un seggio in Parlamento che gli consentirebbe di diventare primo ministro. Nel caso di Sharif, esistono poi un altro paio di impedimenti: l’articolo di legge che impedisce a chiunque di diventare premier per la terza volta, e il fatto che contro di lui pendono ancora le famose accuse di dirottamento aereo e corruzione. A Islamabad, però, tutto o quasi è possibile. Anche che il vedovo di Benazir Bhutto, storica avversaria politica di Sharif, si allei con un sunnita di simpatie wahabi che negli anni ha permesso a Ryad di investire pesantemente in Pakistan costruendo madrasa e moschee e contribuendo in qualche modo a diffondere una visione integralista dell’Islam.
Francesca Marino