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Second coming

Despite being stripped of his powers as President, Asif Ali Zardari will remain a force to reckon with by virtue of being head of PPP, reports Imtiaz Ahmad.

world Updated: Apr 20, 2010 22:04 IST

When Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed the 18th constitutional amendment, which curtailed many of his powers, he told the media that he did not feel powerless.

He has a point.

He may have signed away his powers to appoint the army chief or sack an elected government, but at the end of the day, he may have only lost the battle to win the war.

Zardari remains chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

In this avatar, he can continue to call the shots. This was seen earlier in the month when he refused to nominate Prime
Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s brother as the party candidate for a by-election. The ticket finally went to a Zardari
loyalist.

Without party support, Gilani has nothing to fall back on. It is highly improbable that Gilani will recommend the dissolution of the House or the appointment of a new army chief without endorsement from his party’s high command (read Zardari or his son Bilawal).

An analyst says: “With his finger off the nuclear button and his job reduced to following the advice of the Prime Minister, Zardari may have been able to deflect the heat of vested interests (read army, the US and extremists).”

This is a remarkable success for the President, who was the target of an intense media campaign to unseat him soon after he took office.

Zardari may not be Pakistan’s most popular president but today he is riding a crest of renewed popularity. Till the other day, his every move or word was viewed with suspicion.

It did not help that in his negotiations with his coalition partners and in the move to restore the chief justice, more was said than done.

All that is behind him now.

In the past, he has been accused of many things — from selling the country, to taking over power, to turning Pakistan into a personal fiefdom.

His critics say he is too soft on India. “The truth is that Zardari is pragmatic about relations with India. If he has his way, there will be more trade and greater cooperation with India," says a close aide.

In the final analysis, though, many other factors come into play, restricting the Pakistani President from moving ahead on this and other key issues. But then again, perhaps because of his track record, many doubt his intentions.

Monday’s handover of power has put paid to such talk for the time being. Finally, many seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt — that he may well have meant what he had said in the past about reducing the powers of the President. But there are an equally large number who say the President gave up his powers to save himself.

The question, of course, is what the future holds for Zardari.

All indications suggest that he will have many legal battles to fight in the not too distant future. "In this, both his newly acquired political goodwill and new position will come in handy," says an analyst. And if the judiciary takes up the corruption cases against him, Pakistan will go through another bout of political uncertainty.

But for now, he can take satisfaction from having given his floundering political career a second wind.