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ZARDARI ASIF ALI (1950)

ZARDARI, ASIF ALI (1950) Asif Ali Zardari entered the center stage of Pakistani politics in the summer of 1987 after his engagement to Benazir Bhutto was announced in London Belonging to a family of Sindhi landlords, he was born and brought up in Karachi After Zardari and Bhutto were married in Karachi on 18 December 1987, he promised not to become active in politics He did not, however, keep his word and thus cast a long shadow on Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s first administration Although he was not assigned a formal position in the administration, a number of his close associates joined the prime minister’s secretariat Stories began to circulate about the extent to which Zardari was influencing government decisions There was a suspicion that he was involved in a number of deals in which government procurement of expensive items and the award of building contracts by the government had led to his receiving large commissions Ultimately, based on the extent of talk of Zardari’s activities, the recently liberated press in Pakistan chose Zardari as a subject for investigative reporting The press coverage received by Zardari contributed no doubt to the dismissal of his wife’s administration by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in August 1990 The president mentioned “rampant corruption” as one of the reasons for his drastic move against Bhutto



In September 1990, Zardari was arrested on charges of corruption and extortion One of the cases in which he was implicated— the Unnar Case—revolved around a London-based Pakistani businessman who was allegedly forced to write a check for a large sum of money The caretaker government of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, which took office after the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto, charged Zardari with having been involved in this case of extortion Zardari took part in the elections of 1990 as a candidate representing the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Having been denied bail by the judge presiding over his case and thus unable to leave jail, Zardari could not actively campaign for his own election That notwithstanding, he won a seat in the National Assembly from the Lyari district of Karachi The elections brought Mian Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League to power in Islamabad The new government was not inclined to give any space to Zardari; it was convinced that if he was allowed out of jail, he would flee the country Thus, Zardari languished in jail for two years but was eventually freed on bail, when Prime Minister Sharif’s relations with President Ishaq Khan began to sour in the winter of 1993 By October 1993, another general election had been held, and Benazir Bhutto was back in power as prime minister Zardari initially adopted a low profile, since apparently the prime minister and her husband had learned a valuable lesson from the way they had conducted themselves the first time she was prime minister

He once again won a seat in the National Assembly and for a few months was quite content to serve as a PPP backbencher But this new attitude did not persist for very long Once Prime Minister Bhutto felt she was settled in her job, Zardari reemerged even more prominently than he had in 1988-1990 He also began to amass a vast amount of official power His wife initially gave him the job of chairman of the Environment Commission In a surprising move in July 1996, Bhutto brought Zardari into her cabinet as the minister in charge of investment This move was not appreciated by President Farooq Leghari, who in 5 November 1996 dismissed the prime minister and her cabinet and dissolved the National Assembly Once again, as had happened after Bhutto’s first dismissal, Zardari found himself behind bars, accused of using his position in the government to amass vast amounts of wealth Among the accusations that received the most attention was the purchase of a large mansion in Surrey, outside London The cases against Zardari were investigated by the Ehetasab cell operating out of the office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif In January 1998, the New York Times published a long story carefully documenting the misdeeds allegedly committed by Zardari while his wife was prime minister

See also “SURREYGATE”

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