x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ex-president urges Zardari to step down

Farooq Leghari, in Dubai, offers his views on corruption in the government and the country's role in the war on terror.

Farooq Leghari has described Asif Ali Zardari as an 'isolated leader'.
Farooq Leghari has described Asif Ali Zardari as an 'isolated leader'.

DUBAI // The president Asif Ali Zardari and other ministers facing corruption charges in Pakistan should resign and clear their names so that political stability can return, a former president of the South Asian country said. Farooq Leghari, who was the president more than a decade ago, described Mr Zardari as an "isolated leader" and claimed that the best thing for Pakistan was for him to gracefully resign.

"He has put himself in a position where he can't survive politically. It's a question of whether he will go soon or be shamed by a thousand cuts of the sword," said Mr Leghari in an interview with The National. Mr Leghari was on a private visit to Dubai to meet his daughters, who are based here. Earlier this month, Pakistan's Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that would grant Mr Zardari and his cohorts immunity from prosecution for corruption.

The National Reconciliation Ordinance was declared null and void, thereby leaving the president and other senior politicians open to a host of charges. Mr Zardari, who was chosen as the leader of Pakistan after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, has accused the opposition of a conspiracy to bring him down along with his Pakistan People's Party. "The leaders should accept the court judgment. How can you remain a minister with such charges against you?" Mr Leghari asked.

"Democracy can't survive with such massive corruption going on." Mr Leghari, 69, was elected president of Pakistan in 1993 during a time when Mrs Bhutto was in power. His controversial tenure saw him dismiss his own government on charges of corruption and violation of the constitution. He also ended the term of the prime minister Nawaz Sharif on similar charges. "I had warned all of them against corruption," said Mr Leghari, who alleged that two major parties in Pakistan led by Mrs Bhutto and Mr Sharif had a history of corruption.

"It was as if one party was learning from the other about corruption and not making the mistakes the other did," he said. However, Mr Leghari himself received his fair share of accusations. He was often accused of being power-hungry, which finally led to his resignation as president in December 1997. The power struggle during his tenure led to a virtual paralysis of the government and severe economic strains on the country. He later left active politics, claiming poor health.

Pakistan has faced repeated attacks by suicide bombers and militants. Mr Leghari alleged that the "indigenous Talibanisation" was a product of a deterioration of governance. "When you are involved in corruption you pay scant attention to problems of the people," he said. The country is leading a US-backed war against al Qa'eda and the Taliban at its border with Afghanistan. Media reports say that in Pakistan, militant attacks have killed more than 2,700 people since July 2007.

Mr Leghari said drone attacks by the US in the border regions are creating more terrorists. "The drone attacks are very unpopular in Pakistan. The drones increased in intensity after Zardari came to power and they have increased even more during President Obama's period. "Many times these drones have hit people who are unrelated; collateral damage has been enormous." He added: "In tribal areas, if someone feels he is being wrongly attacked or killed then it's an article of faith with them that they must take revenge.

"It is building up groups that are opposing the US." He defended Pakistan against claims made by neighbouring India of a government-sponsored terror attack against them. After the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the old rivals accused each other of foul play. "I have very little sympathy with this government, but neither the government nor any of its agencies were involved with creating trouble in India. It's against Pakistan's basic interest."

The Mumbai attacks also resulted in immense international pressure on Pakistan to act against groups operating from its territory. pmenon@thenational.ae