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Profile: Asif Ali Zardari
Asif Ali Zardari was a participant or observer in the following events:
Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. [CNN, 10/19/2007]
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. [New York Times, 10/20/2007]
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. [Australian, 10/20/2007] The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. [CNN, 10/20/2007]
Pakistan holds parliamentary elections, and opposition parties are the overwhelming winners. President Pervez Musharraf does not lose his presidency, as he was reelected by the National Assembly several months earlier (see October 6, 2007). However, his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), loses control of the National Assembly, enabling the opposition parties to select their own prime minister a short time later. Much power will now shift to the position of prime minister, which had been completely overshadowed by Musharraf and his presidency since he took power in a coup in 1999 (see October 12, 1999). The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wins 120 seats. The PPP was led by Benazir Bhutto until her recent assassination, and is now led by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the party led by former primer minister Nawaz Sharif, gets 90. Musharraf’s PML-Q only wins 51 seats. Surprisingly, the Islamic parties are almost completely wiped out. The alliance of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), did well and won two provincial elections in the last election in 2002, but this time it only wins six seats. A secular and moderate party, the Awami National Party, wins in the North-West Frontier Province, taking control from the MMA and forming the new provincial government there. No single party holds a majority, but the PPP immediately announces a coalition with Sharif’s PML-N party, shutting Musharraf’s PML-Q party out. Musharraf once had 80 percent popularity ratings in polls, but after many recent controversial moves, including declaring a state of emergency for over a month to stay in power (see November 3-December 15, 2007), his popularity rating is down to about 20 percent. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 390-391] One month later, the coalition selects a relatively unknown figure, Yousaf Raza Gillani, to be the new prime minister (see March 22-25, 2008).
President Musharraf swearing in Yousaf Raza Gillani as Pakistan’s latest prime minister. [Source: Agence France-Presse - Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)In parliamentary elections in February 2008, a coalition of opposition parties led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took effective political control from President Pervez Musharraf, although Musharraf remains president (see February 18, 2008). On March 22, the leader of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, picks Yousaf Raza Gillani to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. Gillani assumes the position in a ceremony on March 25. Zardari is the husband of the recently assassinated and very popular Benazir Bhutto. He reportedly wants the prime minister position for himself, but he is not yet eligible for it as he does not hold a seat in parliament. Gillani is a relatively unknown low-key party stalwart. The New York Times comments that Gillani’s selection seems a “prelude to a drive by Mr. Zardari to take the job himself in the next few months.” [New York Times, 3/23/2008] Within hours of becoming prime minister, Gillani frees the judges that had been placed under house arrest during Musharraf’s state of emergency several months before (see November 3-December 15, 2007). He frees Supreme Court head Iftikhar Chaudhry, the 13 other Supreme Court judges, and 48 High Court judges who refused to sign a loyalty oath. [New York Times, 3/25/2008]
Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto, becomes president of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf resigned as president the previous month after growing pressure suggested he could be impeached (see August 18, 2008). A three-week election campaign quickly followed, and Zardari easily won the election (an electoral college vote, not a general election). Zardari’s elections completes Pakistan’s return to civilian rule after Musharraf seized power in a military coup nine years earlier. [Guardian, 9/9/2008]
"Mr. Ten Percent" - Zardari has a troubled history of numerous corruption allegations. His popular nickname, “Mr. Ten Percent,” refers to the widespread belief in Pakistan that he took a cut from many business deals when his wife Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. He spent 11 years in prison on corruption charges, although he was never actually convicted of a crime. Bhutto seemed poised for a return to power, but when she was assassinated in late 2007, Zardari essentially took her place as head of her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Supporters say he has matured during his years in prison. [Wall Street Journal, 9/5/2008]
ISI Director Nadeem Taj is replaced by Ahmad Shuja Pasha. [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] One day ago, it was reported that the US was intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. Taj became ISI head only a year ago (see 2007). [Australian, 9/29/2008] In March 2009, the New York Times will report that shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. This apparently led to the replacement of Taj and his assistants. The Indian embassy bombing occurred during Taj’s brief time as ISI director. However, the Times will also report that many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained that the ISI’s support for militants remains as strong as ever (see March 26, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] In October 2001, the US also successfully pressured Pakistan to replace its ISI director and several others because of their support for Islamist militants, only to see the replacements continue the same policy of supporting militants (see October 8, 2001).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
In a Newsweek interview, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls former ISI Director Hamid Gul a “political ideologue of terror.” He is asked about reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked him to arrest Gul, due to Gul’s alleged links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Zardari replies: “Hamid Gul is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. Hamid Gul is somebody who was never appreciated by our government. She [Rice] did not go into specifics, if I may share that with you.… He has not been accused in the Mumbai incident.… I think he is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter.” Zardari also strongly denies that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had any role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). [Newsweek, 12/12/2008] In fact, Gul has been accused in regards to the “Mumbai incident,” which is a reference to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Several days prior to Zardari’s interview, it was reported that India is seeking Gul’s arrest for a role in that attack along with that of some other Pakistanis. The Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has been accused of having a role in the attack, and Gul is widely seen as a frequent adviser to this group. Gul denies any link to the attack, or any other attack. Also several days before Zardari’s interview, it was reported the US is attempting to add Gul’s name to a terrorist watchlist for actual roles in attacks and not just being a “political ideologue of terror” (see December 7, 2008). [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] In 2010, it will be reported that Gul has been linked to many recent militant attacks (see July 26, 2010).
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
For the first time, a top Pakistani leader admits that the Pakistani government has supported radical militants. Speaking to a group of retired senior officials, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says: “Let us be truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities. The terrorists of today were the heroes of yesteryears until 9/11 occurred and they began to haunt us as well. They were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives.” Zardari pledges to change this policy. “I have taken charge at a difficult time and will come up to the challenges the country is facing,” he says. [Press Trust of India, 7/8/2009]
President Obama asks the Pakistani government for permission to launch raids on the ground against strongholds of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the request is refused. Haqqani has become the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban. Although it is based in Pakistan’s tribal region, it launches attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The US has put a $5 million bounty on Haqqani’s head, and attempts to kill him with drone strikes have been unsuccessful (see for instance September 8, 2008). Obama makes the request in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which is hand delivered by National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General David Petraeus, head of US forces in the region, follows up with a meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military. However, Pakistan says no. A senior Pakistani official says that a fight with the Haqqani network would create too many problems for Pakistan’s over-stretched army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces,” he says. However, US intelligence believes that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is actually allied with the Haqqani network and has been for over 20 years. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010] US intelligence believes that in 2008, the Haqqani network and the ISI worked together to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008). Later in the month, a suicide bomber will kill nine people at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and US intelligence will suspect that the Haqqani network was involved in the attack (see December 30, 2009) and the ISI may have played a role as well (see January 6, 2010).
Pakistan’s National Assembly passes a set of constitutional reforms that greatly reduces the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari. The unanimous vote turns the office of president into a ceremonial head of state and transfers powers to the prime minister and parliament. Zardari himself backs the reforms. Experts claim the move could help make Pakistan more democratic and less likely to return to military rule. Zardari will still hold considerable power in Pakistan because he is also head of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has a parliamentary majority. Also, he has the loyalty of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, who is also a member of the PPP. [Reuters, 4/8/2010]
Protesters in Kabul burn Florida pastor Terry Jones in effigy during a protest against Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran on September 11. [Source: Musadeq Sadeq / Associated Press]Spokespersons for 11 nations with large Muslim populations speak out against Florida pastor Terry Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010). The Christian Science Monitor has reported: “Muslims see [the Koran] as the uninterrupted, unchangeable, and eternal word of God. Burning the Koran is akin to directly burning the word of God.” India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, says: “We condemn the action of the pastor. It is totally unbecoming of anyone who claims to be a man of religion. We hope that the US authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed.… While we await the action of the US authorities, we would appeal to the media in India—both print and visual media—to refrain from telecasting visuals or publishing photographs of the deplorable act.” Fourteen percent of Indian citizens are Muslim. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appeals to US President Obama to stop the burning (see September 10, 2010). “Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam,” Yudhoyono writes in a letter to Obama. “If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts will be useless.” Eighty-six percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, and it is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Bahrain’s foreign minister issues a statement that calls the planned Koran-burning a “shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence.” Bahrain is over 80 percent Muslim. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls the plan to burn the Koran “despicable,” saying in a statement that “anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul.… It will inflame sentiments among Muslims throughout the world and cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace.” Zardari calls “for doing all that it takes to stop such a senseless and outrageous act.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husein Haqqani, tells a reporter that “the United States should live up to its high ideals and all these people who are against religious extremism and intolerance in the Muslim world should also speak up against meaningless gestures such as burning the Koran.” He also calls on Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck to speak out against the burning: “I think it would help if Mr. Glenn Beck came out against it, and said that people of faith do not burn the books of people of other faith,” Haqqani says. Some 95 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims. (The Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn compares Jones to Osama bin Laden, calling both “extremists.”) British Prime Minister David Cameron says through a spokesman that “primarily this is an issue for the US, but clearly the government’s view is that we would not condone the burning of any book.… We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious tolerance.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemns the plan, saying: “I deplore the act of burning the Koran. It is disrespectful, wrong, and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none. You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam. Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it.” Some 1.3 million British citizens are Muslims. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says: “I unequivocally condemn it. We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.… I don’t speak very often about my own religion, but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that’s what we want to see in this world. I don’t think that’s the way you treat other faiths, as different as those faiths may be from your own.” Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay, echoing sentiments expressed by General David Petraeus (see September 6, 2010), says that the burning could endanger NATO troops overseas: “It will incite further violence and hatred and I’m concerned that this will put Canadians and other ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] soldiers in harm’s way.” Some 500,000 Canadians practice Islam. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman says: “That is the most heinous crime and action, it’s unthinkable. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is an attack on Muslims. It will not only anger the Muslims in Malaysia and throughout the world—Christians also don’t condone this kind of action.… I believe America will take appropriate action so this thing will not happen.” Malaysia has a Muslim majority of 15.5 million. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman says in a statement: “The president condemns the announcement of a religious group in the United States of its intention to openly burn copies of the Koran. It is a clear contradiction of the teachings of the three Abrahamic religions and of dialogue among the three faiths [Christianity, Islam and Judaism].” Lebanon is about 60 percent Muslim. Amr Moussa, the chief of the 22-nation Arab League, calls Jones a “fanatic” and calls on the US to oppose his “destructive approach.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, “If a fundamentalist, evangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Koran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong.” Brigadier General Hans-Werner Fritz, commander of German troops in Afghanistan, adds, “I only wish this wouldn’t happen, because it would provide a trigger for violence towards all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan.” Germany has over 3 million practicing Muslims. A Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry official says, “This bizarre plan… undermines our faith [and] is a flagrant insult to the feelings of Muslims worldwide and would ruin efforts to preach understanding amongst faiths.” The official says that Kuwait has asked its ambassador to the US to coordinate with other Arab and Muslim envoys to ensure that the “tolerant Islamic faith is respected.” The head of Kuwait’s Christian churches league, pastor Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, also condemns the plan in a statement and stresses it does not represent Christ’s teachings of tolerance. Kuwait’s 2.7 million population is 85 percent Muslim. The Vatican issues a condemnation of the burning, saying through the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Affairs: “These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community.… Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.” The Vatican, technically the world’s smallest country with a population of 800, is, presumably, all Roman Catholic. The Vatican is joined by several US Christian organizations in condemning the proposed Koran-burning (see September 8-9, 2010). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/9/2010] Jones is burned in effigy in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, in one of a number of protests around the world against his plans to burn a Koran. [Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010]
Entity Tags: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, David Petraeus, Dawn (Pakistan), David Cameron, Christian Science Monitor, Barack Obama, Asif Ali Zardari, Amre Moussa, Angela Merkel, Anifah Aman, Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, Stephen Harper, Glenn Beck, Husein Haqqani, Vatican, Tony Blair, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Affairs, Hans-Werner Fritz, Terry Jones (pastor), P. Chidambaram, Michel Suleiman, Peter Mackay
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
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