President Asif Ali Zardari chose the twilight of his present incumbency to unequivocally and passionately diagnose the multiple ailments of the country he leads. He seemed frank, candid and at times helpless about the miseries he described before a sympathetic audience; and why and how, Pakistan was dangerously off course to stability.

While addressing the delegates of SAFMA on October 21, 2012, he spoke the truth and nothing but the truth. For an individual known for his remarkable wit and ability to outmanoeuvre political opponents, this was a sad admission of follies, some his own making and other forced by the war on terror.

That he has managed to cling to a disparate coalition plagued with contradictions and compromises; preside over an economic melting pot that was avoidable and failed to provide idiosyncratic edge of statesmanship in crises infer that he failed the rigours of an appointment he chose to hold. Much that Pakistan has undergone in the past four years, and much self-inflicted damage that the state had to incur, was avoidable. As he races to his last lap with an overtaxed mind and another presidential tenure in grasp, his self-analysis becomes his arraignment. Somewhere possibly looms the realisation that he has failed on some count and could now be dispensable. The helpless Zardari we saw that day was also a looser, who realises playing his aces and kings wrong with the wisdom that dawns on statesmen in twilight. Much of the President’s admissions of the foibles that plague Pakistan are accurate with the irony that he had deaf ears to similar suggestions throughout his years. So what does he actually have in mind?

Military operations and the battle for hearts and minds:

He declared that military operations in Fata against militants sans a national consensus are not an option. Yes, any military operation within the social dimension of a state and within the constitutional confines of ‘aid to civil power’ cannot be effective, unless the broader political narrative aims to win the hearts and minds of the people. President Zardari during his incumbency never indicated any willingness or a roadmap or an urgency to evolve any such narrative. Most of the time was wasted on self-centred debates and legislations.

In the ongoing campaign, all operations in Fata are eclipsed by the larger geopolitical objectives of the United States of America, its repeated direct and indirect interventions in Pakistan, the drone strikes and the overbearing and heavily audited, stick-wielding Coalition Support Funds. Certainly, the US objective of this war has never been to win hearts and minds. Had it been so, Pakistan recording a growth of over 6 percent of GDP in 2006-7 should like other economies of South Asia been a success story.

The economy was rather systematically manipulated to what it is in now. The meagre, heavily tied and intrusively audited Kerry-Lugar funds dispersed through non-governmental groups achieve nothing in the face of woes that continue to mount the country. The ever-present, surreptitious and invasive intelligence signature in the form of contractual diplomats, disguised experts and overstaffed Consulates and Embassy contributes least to the well being of a Pakistani. Dilip Hiro, a terrorism and security expert on South Asia, describes it as “The Alliance from Hell: How US and Pakistan Became the Dysfunctional Nuclear Family of International Relations.” He goes on to describe it as “Washington’s Pakistan Meltdown”, since the US objectives are tied to what Hiro describes as “an awkward embrace neither can afford to let go.” Neither did the coalition of federal and provincial governments, imposed through an illegal NRO, ever strive to take the fight to the hearts and minds of its people. Their continued squabbles within and propensity to play grand political Machiavelli is far more responsible for the creation of a political mess, resulting in allegations of the polarisation of society.

Social polarisation:

Social polarisation is far more visible in Karachi and Quetta, the capitals of two provinces ruled by a coalition of PPP. It is a tragedy that political militant groups belonging to parties in power, extortionists with political threads; target killers, ethnic cleansers and mafias have killed far more people in these cities than the US drones. In fact, this is another type of massacre imposed on the people of Pakistan to ferment instability crucial to the thesis presented by Dilip Hiro. This mayhem and insecurity had led to exodus, weaponisation of the provinces and rise in the levels and methods of violence. Of late in Karachi, arson and grenades have become the weapons of choice for mass murders. Even the religious right appears to be divided. While the Difa-e-Pakistan strives for stability within the construct of the ideology of Pakistan, the opposing camp of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal looks beyond territorial geography. Lack of initiatives to connect with the people and win the hearts and minds contributed to multi-polarity in the society. Connect the rising levels of poverty, plummeting human development indices, crime, violence and lawlessness and we have a case of an imploding state, orchestrated by the state itself in the midst of an election year.

Foreign policy:

Locked in an awkward embrace with the USA for the past 10 years, it was strange to hear that “no one but China helped Pakistan in the terror war.” Incidentally, it was China’s presence in Gwadar that set off the present West sponsored separatist movements in Balochistan. Certainly, the US policymakers sitting in Pentagon and State Department would take an exception to this remark coming from the President of Pakistan. They did everything possible from an intrusive Kerry-Lugar Bill, drone war, memogate and flying admonishing visits to ensure the supremacy of civil-military relations. Whenever required, Pakistani army was forced to take it bravely on the chin like the Salala raid, intrusions into Pakistan from Kunar and support of anti-Pakistan militant groups. The people of Pakistan, who have braved the rigours in a country that refuses to succumb, do not matter. With the fits and starts of Chinese sponsored relationships with Russia, has the President of Pakistan sent a clear-cut message of disengagement to USA or are there other motives?

First, the message is for multiple audiences. For USA in an election year, it could be ominous for President Barack Obama. The underlying purpose could be to forge a new contract with the Republicans for political longevity. The message is also for Russia backed by China. It is also for the domestic audience in an election year to ride the wave of growing anti-US sentiment. Most, it could just be another political tantrum.

It would be interesting to read the démarche of Imran’s critics posing multiple questions and open letters to make sense of what President Asif Zardari is saying. Winning hearts and minds, reconciliation and extrication from a US-led war. Is this theme not identical to the three-point roadmap of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf?

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.  Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com