Pakistan's Political Transition: Zardari's Moment

"Eighty per cent of success" in life, Woody Allen has told us, is simply "showing up". By presenting himself in Pakistan's National Assembly for the fifth time last Saturday, President Asif Ali Zardari has shown amazing survival skills.

Unlike the tame Indian version, Pakistan's politics is a dangerous contact sport. One risks the head and the limb in pursuit of power. That Zardari has managed to hang in there at one of the most difficult moments in Pakistan's history is a tribute to his canny instincts.

When he took charge of Pakistan's People's Party after his wife and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at the end of 2007 and led it to electoral victory in early 2008, a few were ready to bet on Zardari's leadership.

After four years, Zardari is now the longest surviving civilian president of Pakistan. With a little more luck, the PPP government led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could well be the first elected government to complete its tenure in office without being booted out by the Pakistan army.

General elections are due in Pakistan to elect the next government in early 2013.

Pakistan is approaching that big moment in the political evolution of a nation from autocracy to democracy--the first peaceful transition of power from one elected government to another through a legitimate electoral process.

Bigger civilian leaders than Zardari--his wife Benazir, his chief political rival Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could not complete their tenures in office.

None of the great generals that ruled Pakistan--Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haque, and Pervez Musharraf--could leave office in normal circumstances.

Zardari's mere survival in office for another year and the conduct of peaceful general elections in 2013 will mark a huge structural shift in Pakistan's politics in favour of the civilian rulers.

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