YRG’s interview in the Financial Times

I found this one-line answer pretty funny:

FT: What are the next steps in the war? You have talked about launching a north Waziristan campaign and you have had some successes in terms of arresting militants? What has changed in your approach?

YG: We have arrested high value targets.

But apart from that the whole interview was pretty solid. I thought it was interesting that he said that not restoring the judiciary earlier was his biggest mistake. One of the unusual things about Zardari and Gillani’s working relationship is that it’s been pretty clear from late 2008 that the two don’t agree on many issues and Gillani hasn’t exactly been shy about insinuating at the points on which he disagrees with Zardari. Despite that, Gillani hasn’t done a Farooq Leghari on Zardari. (Obviously that’s a bad analogy is because Zardari is the one with the 58 2(b), but there were ample opportunities for Gillani to undermine Zardari’s presidency which he didn’t take, especially this year with the judicial appointments crisis).

In January 2009, Ayaz Amir speculated that Gillani was a “second Junejo in the making” after Gillani had sacked his pro-Zardari secretary and National Security Advisor Mehmood Durrani, probably with the blessing of the army. I don’t think that’s exactly materialized either, in large part because Zardari is no Zia. First of all there is no earthly way he could use 58 2(b) so its usefulness as a deterrent is minimal and secondly, Zardari doesn’t have the autocratic tendencies of Bhutto, Zia, Nawaz Sharif or Musharraf. In fact one can argue that Zardari is probably (whether due to circumstance or personality) one of the least autocratic Pakistani rulers in its history. Furthermore, PPP politicians like Gillani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman realize that their political future is better served by sticking with the party, regardless of personal disagreement or ambition and (apart from the hapless Israr Shah who remains suspended from the CEC) Zardari is tolerant enough of dissent to welcome them back into the fold whenever they show up. Finally the combined opposition of the judiciary + PML-N + media + military establishment seems to have terrified/galvanized a lot of the disgruntled PPP leadership back into supporting the party. In fact the interesting thing to me is where Zardari has alienated the most PPP politicians has been the Zulfiqar Mirzas / Nabeel Gabols of Sindh for being too compromising with the MQM and Sajida Mir and others in Punjab for giving too many concessions to PML-N. But while one can have a lot of sympathy for Sajida Mir & co in Punjab, Zulfiqar Mirza and Nabeel Gabol are pretty difficult to muster any sympathy for. (it’s a whole other topic, but Mirza and Gabol’s reliance on gang connections in Lyari is an exact parallel to Pakistan’s use of militancy in Kashmir and Afghanistan – when gangsters become your only leverage they will ultimately become too dangerous for the outside world to tolerate any longer and then you’ll be left with nothing and only yourself to blame).

Gillani is often given all the credit for smoothing over confrontation and Zardari’s resistance to issues like the judicial appointments is often seen as senseless. But aside from the fact that crises like that of the judicial appointments are simply manifestations of issues that need to be resolved, someone once said to me that if Benazir had been in Zardari’s place she would not have lasted so long and I tend to agree with that assessment. Zardari’s peculiar style of alternating confrontation and ultimate backing down from the brink is not pretty but who knows how anyone else would have dealt with the pre-ordained series of crises that this government has encountered. It’s not dignified but nothing about holding on to a civilian government in Pakistan is dignified and anyone who expects it to be, or underestimates the difficulty of the task should listen to Nawaz Sharif’s speech in Lahore on March 1.

Anyway, let’s see what the constitutional reform committee comes up with. So far, Gillani and Zardari have turned out to be – weirdly – been one of the least dysfunctional president/prime minister pairs that Pakistan has had but it will be interesting to see how the changes to the constitution are going to affect this balance.


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