A new book, which traces the turbulent history of the Bhutto dynasty, examines the relationship between Benazir, the first woman prime minister of Pakistan, and her polo playerturned-politician husband Asif Ali Zardari.
During her second government, Benazir Bhutto told an aide that you needed to have $200–300 million to go into an election so that you could fund your candidates and secure their loyalty. While many of her advisers gave her plenty of interesting suggestions about what to do, Asif Ali Zardari actually did things, proving himself to be a man she could rely on. His ability to understand what she needed and to do it without fuss or even discussion was the foundation of their relationship.
Throughout the marriage, whatever complaints she had about him — and there were many — he delivered for her, perhaps explaining why she described him as ‘my lion’. The TV journalist Daphne Barak, who knew the couple, believed Benazir was “completely and utterly in love with her husband” and always wanted to please.
In turn, he was charming and chivalrous. Barak recalled telling Benazir in front of Zardari that the French politician Ségolène Royal resembled her: “Asif responded forcefully and immediately. ‘Nobody is as beautiful as my wife,’ he said. Benazir blushed deeply. She loved him saying that.”
It was a relationship most outsiders could not fathom. Benazir made little secret of how her husband at times hurt her feelings. She revealed some of what she felt in a heart-toheart with Hillary Clinton in the White House at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. “We both know from our own lives that men can behave like alley cats and it is accepted,” she told Hillary. Divorce was never a possibility, first because it would have been an admission of failure, but secondly because Benazir was too conservative to give up on the marriage. After all the years of his imprisonment they both became used to living separate lives, but for all that there was a genuine bond to the end.
As the prime minister’s consort, Zardari found himself in a difficult situation. Pakistani men of his era expected to be in charge, and, more often than not, he found himself trailing in the wake of a woman who attracted adulation wherever she went. The fact that most of her posh friends looked down on him as socially inferior made it worse. During a visit to the UK in 1988 Benazir and Zardari attended a dinner party in London. As they left, she signed the hosts’ visitors book: ‘Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Government House, Islamabad’. He wrote: ‘Asif Zardari, a nobody’. He knew his place.
When Benazir became prime minister, the newly married couple moved into a government building near the parliament called Sindh House and she worked in the prime minister’s secretariat. Zardari also started working from an office in the secretariat. When officials asked Benazir what to do about the large numbers of people thronging into his office, she told them that their job was to keep him happy. In the early years of her time in power she thought she had enough to cope with and wanted to avoid picking fights with her assertive husband too. But senior PPP colleagues did not see it like that and insisted he should conduct his business elsewhere. Frustrated and refusing to back down, Zardari moved to Karachi, obliging Benazir to fly down with baby Bilawal every weekend to see him.
Rumours about Zardari’s financial dealings started circulating just months into the administration. Perhaps mindful of the Bhuttos’ estates, Zardari always believed that the ownership of property conferred social weight and power, and as early as mid-1989 the newspapers were asking questions about his growing property interests. Prime Minister’s House, one opposition leader complained, had become a stock exchange run by Zardari. There were also complaints about nepotism, with his father becoming chair of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and his brother-in-law head of the Karachi Development Authority, although Asif Zardari has consistently denied any wrongdoing in public office. But while Benazir was content to let him do his business uninterrupted, Zardari did not get a free pass on everything.
The couple’s marital disputes trickled down to their advisers, who used to joke that there was an ‘A’ team backing Asif and a ‘B’ team with Benazir. In 1991 there were rumours that Benazir briefly considered leaving him and some on the ‘B’ team encouraged her to do so. But those on the ‘A’ team reckoned that, either for personal reasons or to avoid a scandal, she would never walk out of her marriage. They were right — as Benazir’s closest friends have said, she was at heart a conservative woman who believed that marriage, however difficult, was for life. Or as Zardari rather unromantically put it when asked about the rumours: “She behaves as an Eastern wife should behave. Why should she dump me?”
After the fall of Benazir’s first government, the search for evidence of financial malpractice began. One of President Ishaq’s most trusted advisers, the civil servant Roedad Khan, was made a federal minister in the caretaker government and given the task of securing some corruption convictions. Khan set up a special cell with dedicated tribunals to process cases against Benazir, her husband and some of her ministers. Zardari was the prime target, and the statuses of the various cases against him were to become a running theme of Pakistani politics for the next two decades. After some initial investigations Roedad Khan selected six cases, one of which alleged that Benazir had allotted 545 residential plots in Islamabad to PPP leaders at throwaway prices. Khan told the president that the court proceedings should not take more than two months. Yet, for all his much remarked upon capability as a bureaucrat, Roedad Khan had not appreciated the slothful practices of the Pakistani courts. Two years later, none of the six cases had made any significant progress. “We soon realised,” he later wrote, “that under our existing judicial system it takes longer to get an answer from a respondent in a reference case than it takes to send a man to the moon and bring him back”.
As for Zardari, on October 11, 1990, during the election campaign, he was arrested in connection with the alleged kidnapping of someone who owed him money. The allegation was that he strapped a bomb to the man and said that if he did not go to a bank to withdraw $800,000 there and then, the bomb would be exploded by remote detonation. Zardari denied the charge, but the case led to his first period of imprisonment. There would be many more. But the whole process was hopelessly politicised: when the PPP was in power, the cases against him went away. When it was in the opposition, they came back.
If she believed an interlocutor was discreet Benazir would, on occasion, discuss the issue of corruption as a generalised practice. In a surprisingly unguarded interview with the American Academy of Achievement in 2000 she said, while denying personal involvement, that she wished she had done more to tackle corruption: ‘We all knew kickbacks must be taken… these things happen.’
Politicians everywhere, she argued, made money. The difference was that while Western politicians did so after they left office, their counterparts in the developing world did not have that option. The US journalist Ron Suskind once put it to her that his high-level sources in the US government had told him that she was making ‘real money’. There was no denial. Rather she said, “Let me explain how it works. In your part of the world Dick Cheney is vice president and then he goes to Haliburton to make his money. In this part of the world you make your money whilst you are in office. It is not that different.”
There were many other rationalisations. She had to provide for the next generation. Didn’t her children deserve some compensation for being brought up in the glare of publicity? Should politics lead to her premature death, wasn’t it reasonable that her offspring should have enough to look after themselves? If she had given industrial permits to relatives and friends, what was wrong with that? Wasn’t it fair to make up for what General Zia had taken off them?
While Benazir was sometimes willing to have private conversations about these matters, there were lines she would not cross. US Ambassador Robert Oakley, who got to know her well during her first government, later said she would justify making money with the argument: ‘my enemies practiced it; why shouldn’t I?’ But the moment Oakley raised Zardari’s alleged activities, she would clam up, with strong denials of any wrongdoing. “She was fiercely defensive about her husband. She was terribly in love with him; she could never deny him anything. And he took and takes advantage of that.”
The only time that Benazir gave any ground on Zardari came when it was politically expedient for her to do so.
In 2001, when she was at the start of her long campaign to return for a third stint as prime minister, she faced a barrage of criticism about Zardari’s conduct during the first and second governments. For PPP loyalists, nervous of criticising Benazir, it was convenient to say that all the corruption had been his fault and he had led her astray, and that if she wanted to make a comeback, she should do so alone.
She responded to this criticism with unusual frankness: “OK. He is not an angel. Maybe he did things that were wrong. He is man enough to say, ‘I did it’ in a fair and impartial enquiry. But what about all those others…”
A 1998 exchange of letters with the highly regarded PPP senator, lawyer and human rights activist Iqbal Haider revealed another aspect of her personality that even some of her most ardent supporters found difficult to defend: the feudal mindset she never escaped. Unlike virtually any other senior member of the PPP, Iqbal Haider had had the courage to tell Benazir what he thought of her husband, writing to her that he believed Zardari had been one of the main reasons for the dismissal of the PPP government and that if his role was not diminished the party would continue to suffer. Benazir’s response brimmed with her sense that, while she had the right to lead, others with more modest backgrounds did not. She accused Iqbal Haider of failing to show enough gratitude for having been made a senator and of forgetting where he came from. Her feudal attitudes were never far from the surface.
Source: – Mumbai Mirror
Boris Johnson used to be the Teflon man of British politics, brushing off scandals, gaffes and mistakes. Not any more – CNN
Who Won the Debate? Political Observers Weigh In – The New York Times
Like other presidents who have slipped in the polls after a widely panned first debate, President Trump was the beneficiary of low expectations on Thursday night in the final debate before the election, a more civil and lower-decibel affair than the last.
But his effort to demonstrate greater discipline was most likely too little, too late to deliver the jolt to the race that he needs to lift his chances for re-election, some of the nation’s top political strategists and other observers said.
Where some saw hope for Mr. Trump, others saw the same candidate facing the same challenging campaign dynamics.
“Nothing changed,” Matthew Dowd, a former top aide to President George W. Bush, said on ABC News. “He wasn’t a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t mean he won the debate.”
Though Mr. Trump needed some kind of breakthrough to overcome former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead in the polls, Mr. Dowd said later that he did not see that happen during the course of the 90-minute encounter. “Biden had a lead going in and has a lead leaving,” he wrote on Twitter.
The size of Mr. Biden’s lead, double digits in some national polls, is so large that any good Mr. Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by Mr. Biden’s even performance. “Biden did not do a face plant,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “That is all he needed to do.”
Ahead of the debate, many analysts saw parallels between Mr. Trump’s underdog position and the high stakes President Barack Obama faced before his second debate in 2012, when he delivered sharper and more forceful rebuttals to Mitt Romney than he had before, and soon rebounded in the polls.
Certainly, many of Mr. Trump’s defenders sought to portray his performance that way on Thursday. Many claimed that he had triumphed over Mr. Biden, seizing on the former vice president’s statement about phasing out fossil fuel use as a devastating misstep.
Some praised the president merely for not interrupting. “Trump’s self-control is very impressive right now,” said Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative writer and podcast host.
And others claimed that Mr. Biden had reinforced stereotypes of him as a career politician who inspires little passion.
David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said on Twitter that the president “has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: ‘what have you done Joe during all your time in DC? You’re all talk no action.’”
Mr. Brody concluded, “That message will have traction.”
But it was not certain that the evening would have much effect on a race in which few undecided voters remain. Nor was it clear that the debate did anything other than reaffirm what most people already felt about both men.
Here is what observers from across the political spectrum said.
Mr. Trump’s supporters believed they had the moment that every campaign dreams of in a debate: those 20 or so seconds when your opponent makes a gaffe that can be spliced into an attack ad that can run repeatedly over the final stretch of the race.
It was not clear, however, that this is what Mr. Trump had after Mr. Biden challenged the president to produce video proving that he had said he would ban fracking, and then expressed support for phasing out fossil fuels and ending federal subsidies for oil companies.
“I’m not sure much is going to change or can at this point in the race, in this year, but if anything were to, that oil line is the one that will haunt him,” said Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative analyst.
Republicans quickly began circulating one such video showing Mr. Biden describing what he would do about fracking, saying, “We would make sure it’s eliminated.” The former vice president has since said repeatedly he does not support ending the practice, a major source of jobs.
“Biden thinks PA is stupid,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Republican strategists also saw something to like in Mr. Trump’s response on how he plans to handle the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country, revealing the deep divide between many conservative supporters of the president, who want a generally more hands-off approach from the government, and most other Americans, who believe in taking steps such as mandating mask-wearing in public.
Ari Fleischer, a former aide to Mr. Bush, said many Americans would find something more hopeful in the president’s message, versus what he saw as the pessimism of Mr. Biden’s words. “Trump is right about learning to live with the virus,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We can and must fight the virus, and live our lives. I suspect Trump’s message about living with it beats Biden’s message about dying with it.”
Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, echoed that point, saying that many Americans are wary of stringent lockdowns. “Biden talks bailouts and shutdowns – Trump talks re-opening. That’s a good contrast for the President and he should hold this fight here,” Mr. Todd said.
But Tony Fratto, who also worked for the Bush administration, raised what some strategists have said is Mr. Trump’s Achilles’ heel: his drop in support among seniors. “Continuing to press the fact that young people are less likely to die will not help to close that gap with old people,” Mr. Fratto said.
Mr. Biden’s defenders appeared to anticipate that Mr. Trump would be graded on a curve. But they tried to remind people that any perceptions of a vast improvement were relative.
“I’ve watched more Trump debates than any human,” Ron Klain, an aide to Mr. Biden who helped him prepare for the debates, said less than an hour into the event on Thursday. “The ‘new’ Trump never lasts more than 40 minutes.”
And Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who is supporting Mr. Biden, said the president’s ability to demonstrate self-control should not be confused with good policy. Describing the president’s response to being challenged by Mr. Biden on his handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Miller asked: “Was the president’s task there to convince Americans he has a plan to deal with this pandemic or to convince Americans that he can behave like a good boy for 4 minutes? Because it was a whiff on the first one.”
One of the biggest unknowns going into the debate was how Mr. Trump might try to unnerve Mr. Biden by raising unsubstantiated claims about the business pursuits of his son Hunter in China and elsewhere.
But when Mr. Trump raised the issue, he found himself on the defensive when Mr. Biden turned the question back around, asking about Mr. Trump’s taxes and noting a recent New York Times report that brought to light a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account belonging to the president. Even some conservatives conceded that Mr. Biden had played his hand well when Mr. Trump had to spend time explaining why he had not released his tax returns.
“Biden had a shrewd strategy on Hunter allegations to get it on Trump’s taxes and bank account, and it worked,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.
Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, said that Mr. Trump appeared thrown off by Mr. Biden’s response. “It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances,” he said. “It’d be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency.”
Paul Davis's political return sparks Conservative Party turmoil – CBC.ca
Former premier Paul Davis has announced his decision to re-enter politics, this time at the federal level — but that move isn’t welcome news to some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with some local riding executives stepping away from their duties because of it.
On Thursday night, Davis posted on Facebook that he will seek the party’s nomination in the riding of Avalon in a future general election. Early Friday morning, Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Conservative Association, made an announcement of his own: that as Davis didn’t notify party executives first prior to posting, Power was stepping aside from his party duties, at least temporarily.
“I strongly feel that he should have first given notice to CPC nominating committee before any public announcement was made,” Chris Power said in a letter to fellow members of the association board.
In an interview with CBC News, Power said others on the board feel similarly and some executives have resigned, although he said Davis was not required to give a heads-up to the party before making his announcement.
“That’s your people on the ground, and the general consensus [is] that if we’re on the ground, that our opinion should matter, you know, and it didn’t seem like it really did,” Power said Friday.
Power himself has decided on a temporary leave of absence from his role while the nomination process is underway, as Power said he and other executive members support the other candidate, Matthew Chapman, over Davis.
“We just thought at this time that we’d be better served with fresh blood. And we frankly didn’t think experience as a provincial politician was necessarily a positive thing right now,” said Power, who said he will be taking a “very active role” campaigning for Chapman during his leave.
‘Airing their dirty laundry’
Davis departed politics in November 2018, and in his resignation announcement at the time said he had no intention of running federally. But on Friday, Davis said the last six months — with troubles besieging small businesses and large industries, particularly oil and gas, as well as the omnipresent uncertainty — changed his mind.
“Someone needs to step up to the plate. I just can’t sit by any longer,” he told CBC News.
“There’s no plan to fix it. We don’t even hear any empathy or concern being communicated by our MPs in Ottawa.”
Davis said he’s had positive discussions with the local party ranks about running, and was caught off guard by their reaction to his announcement.
“Many of them are supporters of the other candidate. So it’s not unusual … for a candidate to have their own supporters on a district association. It happens provincially, it happens federally, it’s not unique to Avalon,” he said.
“I’m a little bit surprised that they’re airing their dirty laundry publicly, or their views on that, because some of them have been open arms welcoming and encouraged me to be in the process.”
A grassroots revival
Chapman, the other candidate, said he’s open to the competition.
“I wish Paul nothing but the best, and I’ve told him that. I believe that the membership and people of Avalon are going to recognize that I ran when nobody else would,” he said.
Chapman ran in the 2019 general election and lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, who has been the riding’s MP since 2015. In that race Chapman garnered significant support, capturing 31 per cent of the vote, compared with McDonald’s 46 per cent.
Chapman credited that to grassroots support, as he and a few dedicated volunteers spent the last year rebuilding the Conservative Party’s base in the riding.
“I’ve spoken to all of people who are upset, because they’ve recognized I’ve literally put hundreds of hours of work into rebuilding this,” he said.
“People had the opportunity to run and turned it down, people had the opportunity to get involved and rebuild their association, and they didn’t.”
In the last year, the party’s grassroots in the Avalon have grown, added Power, to an executive board of 25 people with more than 280 party members, but Davis’s announcement and its resulting inner turmoil could prove to be a setback for the party.
“It’s sad because we had a number of initiatives that we were working through as a district that now all has to be put on hold,” said Power.
The call for nominations in the riding is still open, and Davis said the party would give two weeks’ notice before it closes and the candidate election process kicks in.
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