Sonia Gandhi is his role model and he believes that together India and Pakistan can become a superpower. Unlikely words from a Pakistani politician. But then, Pakistan’s new president Asif Ali Zardari is a man of surprises. In a remarkable reversal of fortunes after the assassination of his wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the man once dubbed Mr 10 per cent, has won the presidency fair and square. Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s warm words of felicitation show that New Delhi is hopeful of a new era of peace and cooperation with Islamabad after the stormy Musharraf years. The reaction of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) supremo, Nawaz Sharif, who had pulled out of a coalition with Mr Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was surprisingly mature too.
All this suggests that despite the presence of the army and the Inter-services Intelligence in Pakistan, its civilian politicians have realised the need to pull together for the sake democracy. It is significant again that neither Mr Zardari nor Mr Sharif has raised that tried-and-tested bogey, Kashmir, preferring instead to speak of an amicable solution.
That said, Mr Zardari has his task cut out. He takes over a country that is economically crippled. As the Americans intensify their counter-terrorism operations, the fundamentalists are ever more determined to teach those seen as friendly to Washington a lesson. The assassination attempt on PM Yousaf Gilani was a warning to Mr Zardari.
Despite this, he has made brave claims that he will take on the Taliban. This is easier said than done. The army has been supportive of Mr Zardari. But this does not reflect the deep animosity that the fundamentalist elements in the army have towards civilian governments. Mr Zardari also has to deal with the tricky issue of reinstating judges, a bone of contention between the PPP and the PML(N). The one thing that Mr Zardari does have on his side is popular support for a democratic government. This is good news for Pakistan and equally so for India.