Destiny has placed Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in a position that is far from enviable. In the hurly-burly of government formation, he moves around in armoured vehicles, is guarded round-the-clock by armed party cadres and lives in a house resembling a bunker. The tragedy that brought in its wake a national responsibility has given Benazir Bhutto’s widower an image makeover. The PPP’s consensus-man whose stock rose with his decision to renounce the prime minister’s office, spoke exclusively to Hindustan Times. Excerpts:
How close are you to forming the government with the PML-N and other like-minded parties?
We have an assurance from Nawaz Sharif Sahib and two or three other parties, including the Awami National Party, Maulana Fazlur Rahman of Jamiat-e-Islam and the MQM.
Will they share power or support the PPP from outside?
Nothing is free in politics. One has to share power….
On the basis of an agreed programme as is the case in India?
I don’t know how it is in India. We are looking at gaining from our strong points that we’ll together use in Pakistan’s interest.
Do you expect Sharif to come around to your stand to institutionalize the judiciary’s independence and right-size the Presidency’s powers?
He’s with us on this stance.
There is a view that the new incumbent should be from Sindh to address the alienation there after Benazir’s assassination?
PPP is a party that does not believe in provincialism. Let’s not restrict the choice to any one factor. We had the most competent PM any country could aspire in my shaheed wife. But she wasn’t PM because she was from Sindh. She was PM because she was competent.
Will the PPP-ruled Pakistan continue to be a frontline player in the war against terror?
Let me rephrase that. Pakistanis a frontline state because of its (geo-political) situation. We are (directly) at threat, the world is behind us. Our first task is to save ourselves from this problem of terrorism. Pakistan cannot help but be serious about it.
What political plan do you have to save your country from terrorism?
The people are fed up of it. Originally, it was novel, it was new and was happening elsewhere. So maybe there were some unkind thoughts — or a thoughtless approach. Now it’s hitting at home, hurting people and making them react. There is room therefore for building public opinion against terrorism. The opinion is there already. It just has to be gathered along with the strength to fight it.
Is there a danger of the Indo-Pak peace dialogue being abandoned because it was initiated in 2004 by President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee?
Let me correct you. It was not initiated by Musharraf. It was initiated by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Shimla (in 1972) and was reiterated in 1988 by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (during Rajiv Gandhi’s Pak visit). The PPP is bound by its legacy. It’s not time-oriented or individual-specific.
Will you enter Parliament through a by-poll? Or is your decision not to be PM and work for the party final for all time?
I’m in a very honourable position as the leader of Pakistan’s largest political party. I can do more work sitting where I am for the party, for Pakistan and for democracy.
Is the road ahead easy or difficult?
Pakistan is a very difficult country (to govern). The situation we find ourselves in is very difficult. But wherever there are problems, there is (scope for) resolution.
Does Benazir’s absence make you feel lonely sometimes?
What do mean lonely? We’re lost without her. Her memories are strewn all over. The walls, the people around, remind me of her. In spirit, she will always be with us and lead us. I’m not leading the party, she’s leading it from Garhi Khuda Bux (where she’s buried in Sindh by her father’s side).
Did the Gandhi family reach out to you after the tragedy?
Rahul Gandhi called. We have always had good relations.