Pakistan’s Zardari wins mixed reviews with U.S. trip

September 29, 2008

President Asif Ali Zardari meets Alaska Governor Sarah Palin/Shannon StapletonDepending on who you read, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was either an embarrassment for trying to flirt with Sarah Palin during his trip to New York last week, or a street-smart wheeler-dealer bravely standing up to Islamist militancy after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.

Time revisits the encounter between Zardari and Palin — in which he told the vice-presidential candidate she was gorgeous and threatened to hug her in a scene now frequently being replayed on YouTube — writing that it led to Zardari being “pilloried at home as a source of national embarrassment and accused of sexism and impropriety”.

In contrast, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen  was fulsome in his praise of a man filling what he calls ‘the most dangerous job on earth’. This is one of the most positive, if not the most positive, reviews I have ever read about Zardari.

President Zardari addresses UN General Assembly/Eric Thayer“My impression?” writes Cohen. “This guy’s very smart, street smart, a wheeler-dealer in an area full of them, secular, pro-American, committed to democracy, and brave. I never heard (former president Pervez) Musharraf frame Pakistan’s fight against terrorism with such candor. I believe he wants genuine conciliation with India and Afghanistan, essential to the region’s stability. (Positive meetings were held here with the Indian and Afghan leaders.). I care much less right now about his checkered past than about getting behind him for civilization’s sake.”

The Los Angeles Times says the jury is still out on whether Zardari, “an accidental president” thrust into the limelight by his wife’s assassination last year, can reinvent himself as a truly inspirational leader able to rally the country while also keeping the Pakistan Army on side. 

“In a country that has spent half its existence under military rule, Zardari, as a civilian leader, still maintains only tenuous control of the army,” it says.  The newspaper quotes Stephen Cohen, an expert on Pakistan at the Brookings Institution in Washington, as saying that “If the military doesn’t do what he wants it to do, he doesn’t have sovereignty.” Cohen adds: “He’s been elected president, but that’s meaningless.”

As for Pakistan’s neighbours, Zardari seems to have won over Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who told CNN he sees a new opportunity to work with Pakistan to uproot militant sanctuaries on their shared border. This was in sharp contrast to Karzai’s  relationship with Musharraf, which was marked by both countries blaming the other for failing to crack down on the Taliban and al Qaeda.

And as for India? According to The Economic Times, India welcomed Zardari’s commitment to improving ties, but remained to be convinced that he could deliver on his promise to crack down on Islamist militants operating in both Afghanistan and Kashmir.  Adopting a similar line to that expressed by the Los Angeles Times, Indian newspapers have said that “there are clearly ‘multiple centres of power’ now in Pakistan which makes it extremely difficult to be certain about deliverables.”



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Roger Cohen is probably going to get a paid vacation at the Surray Palace very soon.

If Roger likes him so much then he should have kept Zardari in the US so that he could take part in the next US Presedential elections!

Posted by Imran Siddiqui | Report as abusive

Dear Mr Cohen,

Congratulations on writing such a balanced article on the Co-Chairperson PPP President Asif Zardari.

I would advise you not to be eprturbed by some caustic comments posted on your article. You must undertand that the ethnic affiliations of these people prevent them from ever warming up to Zardari or his martyred wife, both of whom were of Sindhi descent.

One Mr Imran Siddiqi who has posted the unusually aggresive comment seems by his name to be either from the MUHAJIR or PUNJABEE ethnic group, both of whom are known for their long history of hostility towards the Sindhis, Baluchis and Pathan nations in Pakistan.

Posted by Ravez Junejo | Report as abusive

I am guilty of an error. I feel I should be thanking Ms Myra Macdonald.

I apologise for the oversight. It appears that the earlier comment blinded my senses with indignant fury.

Posted by Ravez Junejo | Report as abusive

Dear Mr Ravez Junejo It was due to massive mandate from punjab that Pakistan Peoples Party (led by sindhis since established) formed government for the 4th time in this nation’s history!
Punjabis have never been hostile towards pashtuns,sindhis or balochis infact its always been you guys who have been throwing mud on us whenever an opportunity arises.
Stop creating divisions.Its time to show unity!

Posted by Arslan | Report as abusive

Mr Junejo,

Please do not blame all hostile comments on ethnic backgrounds. Frankly speaking it has been there in all our provinces. Sindhis, baluchis, pathans and punjabis they all have their difference but why is it that always Punjabis are bashed for being discriminating. If Mr Siddiqui does not like Mr Zardari it could be a matter of personal choice as well. Let it just stay to that.

Posted by Moiza | Report as abusive

as a sindhi who supported benazir, let me be clear about this:ZARDARI IS DISLIKED BY MAJORITY SINDHIS LIKE THE REST OF THE NATION. he was the reason behind the late Benazir (may God rest her soul) lack of greater support.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

Mr, Cohen,
I am flabbergasted to read your remarks about Mr,Zardi.Mind you he famous for 10% and has dreadly record of corruption,etc,I believe its very awkward to say that he is more courages than former president Mr, Mussaraf. Mussaraf was a benevolent dictator who brought hope and enlightnment
to a bellicose and benighted nation.Mr, Zardi has not brought anything similar to Mussaraf’s in his past era apart from hatred,corruption

Posted by ELDRICK | Report as abusive

I agree with ELDRICK, it’s too soon to compare the two. Given the past records of the latter the comparision doesnt make any sense.

Posted by VN | Report as abusive

im srry but anyone who says Zardari’s past is behind him is either naive or has not lived in pakistan. with Musharaf gone Zardari will take pakistan and run it too the ground and steal every dime he can i mean he has admitted wanting make his wife’s dreams about pakistan’s future come true and what do u think his wife who was kicked out TWICE for corruption and had a money laundering case against her in switzerland dreamt of when she thought of pakistan “(PIGGIE BANK) with no lock lets steal some more.”. MR 10 Percent is never gonna change but his title now is probably MR 90% as he is the big fish in pakistan now.

Posted by Faizan | Report as abusive

ONE more thing me cohen u knwing the history of buttho and zardari’s “brilliant corruption schemes” will u have in ur rite mind select him as ur president. I knw ur answer so why do u think he is a good choice for us

Posted by Faizan | Report as abusive