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Zardari Leaves A Mixed Legacy


Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down with a smile on his face. (file photo)

Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down with a smile on his face. (file photo)

Pakistan's former President Asif Ali Zardari's term concluded with fanfare as a grand military guard of honor formally marked the end of his tenure on September 8. Zardari left Islamabad's sprawling President House with a broad grin as he became the nation's first elected head of state to complete a full five-year term.

His years in office, however, were tumultuous and he leaves behind a mixed legacy, which helped strengthen democracy but failed to resolve the country's economic and security woes.

"The New York Times'" Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh, aptly summed up his contribution:

Over his five years in power, Mr. Zardari fended off threat after threat. Senior judges sought to unseat him through corruption prosecutions. Generals murmured to diplomats about the possibility of a coup. The Taliban vowed to kill him. And large portions of the Pakistani news media and public seemed to revel in ridiculing or condemning him.

He leaves with the Pakistani economy a shambles, and with the once-mighty political machine he still leads, the Pakistan Peoples Party, in disarray after a crushing election defeat.

Yet for all that, Mr. Zardari, 58, has also confounded expectations. He bolstered Pakistan’s democracy by draining his own office of power. He became the country’s first elected president to complete his term of office. He shifted the tone of politics, eschewing bare-knuckles confrontation for a more accommodating approach.

And, perhaps thanks to the instincts that were honed during his 11 years in prison before becoming president, he displayed political wiles that enabled him to outmaneuver the steeliest rivals, and simply survive.

Perhaps for the first time in years, Pakistani media also praised Zardari for his political acumen. In an editorial on September 7, "The Express Tribune" daily credited him with ensuring a smooth democratic transition after the May 11 general election.

The paper praised him for "giving up key presidential powers thereby altering the presidential role to a mainly ceremonial one. This is, of course, how things should be in a parliamentary democracy," the editorial said.

The "Dawn" daily created a special page compiling the views of journalists, politicians and civil society leaders on Zardari's legacy.

Columnist Asad Rahim Khan criticized Zardari for his lack of political experience before assuming the presidency and blamed him for failing to stop sectarian and ethnic bloodshed in the country:

...in the five years of arresting images, it will take a lifetime to forget Alamdar Road, Quetta [where ethnic Hazaras, a Shi'ite minority, were massacred in suicide bombings]. Then, as with the floods of 2010, as with the funerals of the shaheeds [martyrs] that fight terror so that we may live oblivious, it was defined by a president just not there.

-- Abubakar Siddique
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