Those who dismissed Asif Ali Zardari’s political acumen when he took over the Pakistan People’s Party leadership and then the presidency of the country should eat their words. Mr Zardari has delivered a master stroke by sending out a broad hint that his party may accede to the supreme court’s demand that the Swiss authorities be asked to re-open the graft cases against him. Given that Mr Zardari is the co-chairman of the PPP — often functioning from his presidential office much to the chagrin of the opposition — the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, could have hardly acted without his consent. Mr Ashraf has been given three weeks’ time by the court to post the letter. It goes without saying that the shift in stance, no matter how marginal, could not have been taken without a careful weighing of the odds. By relenting to the supreme court’s demand, the PPP will not only avoid an institutional clash that has so far proved to be politically costly, but also ensure that the maximum advantage accrues to the party in the forthcoming elections. The suspension of the battle at the courts will have a positive impact on the economy, a fact already demonstrated by the rapid strengthening of the market. It will also help the government put its mind to governance, a move that will have a direct bearing on the PPP’s political fortunes at the hustings.
As for the case against the president, the PPP is all too aware that even if a letter is written to the Swiss authorities, much will depend on the latter’s willingness to pursue a case against a head of state whose constitutional immunity is an undeniable fact. This is an issue that the Pakistan supreme court has steadfastly avoided confronting. So there is a possibility that it may have the pleasure of seeing the executive bend to its wishes, but not one of having the president put on trial. Meanwhile, Mr Zardari may have the pleasure of seeing his party prosper and his moral standing improve vastly.