Zardari: Cornered in Pakistan, to pray in India
New Delhi: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari goes to Ajmer Sharif on Sunday with a prayer on his lips after grappling with a string of problems, including the tense aftermath of Osama bin Laden`s killing, a coup rumour and dragging court cases.
Zardari, 56, took charge of Pakistan in September 2008, almost a year after the assassination of his charismatic wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Since then, he has been besieged by controversies.
One of his first major foreign policy pronouncements was to tell Indians that Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, and that the two countries have a great future together.
The remark triggered criticism by those who accused him of selling out the Kashmir cause to India.
Today, the President enjoys the support of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is standing by him in a Supreme Court case over corruption charges involving Zardari.
Pakistanis were furious when Zardari -- who may never have become president if Benazir had not been killed -- left on a tour of Europe even as large parts of Pakistan were ravaged by floods in 2010.
If 2010 was bad, 2011 proved far worse.
He was embroiled in a controversy when Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz claimed to have delivered a secret memo to US joint chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at the behest of then Pakistani envoy in Washington, Husain Haqqani, and the Pakistani government.
The memo said Zardari feared a coup after al Qaeda leader Osama was killed in May by US commandos. The revelation about the memo sparked a political tsunami and cost Haqqani his job.
The Pakistan Army, seen as the real rulers in the country, saw Haqqani as Zardari`s man. Haqqani`s wife was spokesperson of Zardari in his capacity as the co-chair of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Pakistan was again tense for a few days in December when Zardari abruptly flew to Dubai, leading to much confusion and sparking rumours of a coup.
The government insisted he had gone to Dubai for medical tests and to meet his children but Pakistani Army doctors said he was hale and hearty.
Zardari`s political struggles today are a far cry from the period before Bhutto died.
At that time, his public image was so poor that the PPP kept him out of public eye even during election campaigning.
When he was sworn in as head of state, he was widely seen as a greenhorn, with the media underlining that Zardari had little governing experience.
It was true. He had spent over 11 years in jail on what he said were "politically motivated" corruption charges.
He was never convicted although critics dubbed him "Mr 10 Percent" -- a derisive reference to the commissions he allegedly took on every deal when his wife ruled Pakistan.
Born in Karachi, Zardari was educated at St Patrick`s School in the city and later in Lahore.
He would have remained one of Pakistan`s lesser known feudal lords but for his marriage to Benazir.
With all his problems, it is understandable that Zardari would be eager to pray at Ajmer Sharif, the seat of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, where thousands go every day for fulfilment of an ardent wish.
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