Trouble for Pakistan’s Possible Next President?

Reports have surfaced that PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari “was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year…”

Zardari (husband of the late Benazir Bhutto) is the defacto head of Pakistan’s largest political party. His alliance with the other major political party PML-N fell apart shortly after Musharraf resigned. Knowing Pakistani politics this is not surprising.

Zardari is probably fine, the claims of psychiatric troubles were really a legal gambit to postpone a trial for corruption in the UK.

It would be nice to think that this is a sign that Pakistani politics has moved to character assassination – a real improvement since usually that nation’s politics is rocked by the real thing. But it is maddening that the country’s leaders cannot seem to come together in a time of severe crisis.

Another worrying sign is the tiff between the American Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the State Department’s assistant secretary for South Asia Richard Boucher. Boucher is mad because Khalilzad is having unsanctioned contacts with Zardari and somehow this spat found its way into The New York Times. Hmmm…

Boucher is long-time Foreign Service, whereas Khalilzad is close to the administration. Virtually every administration complains about the State Department. FDR considered them more obstreperous then Treasury – but not as bad as the Navy. Kennedy thought Foggy Bottom was running its own government. In general, administrations figure out how to work with the foreign policy bureaucracy, but this administration has not been able to do so. Every administration has to do occasional end runs around the bureauracy sometimes, and the administration undoubtedly has its reasons for being frustrated with “the striped pants crowd.”

But these end runs must be sued sparingly and this is a crucial issue. Pakistan is an impoverished, cobbled together country that in the best of times is in a partial state of collapse. And it has nukes. Currently in the throes of multiple insurgencies, an economic crisis, rising Islamist radicalism, Pakistan will be at the top of the next administration’s priority list. And they have nukes!

Yes, the hour is late and this administration doesn’t have much gas left. But building frameworks that can be expanded under the next President is still possible. Biden mentioned Pakistan as a major area of concern in his speech tonight. Even some spadework would be appreciated no matter who takes office in January

It is frustrating that Pakistan’s political class cannot get its act together and move forward in the national interest – but on this issue the United States is a glass house.

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  1. “Doubts cast on Zardari’s state of mental health: “Asif Ali Zardari…was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year…diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder…Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged moneylaundering and corruption…were also the target of corruption investigations in Switzerland and Spain.”

    Yes, it’s with leadership like the above-mentioned that will take Pakistan straight to the top. I still can’t believe the United States gave Pakistan (and Musharraf) over 10 billion to assist us…in what?! Now we might have to work with someone like Asif Ali Zardari? It makes my blood boil (Ughhhhh) to see unethical people working the system.
    Kelly Yip

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