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Asif Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari, widely known as 'Mr 10 Per Cent', was the husband of former Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mounting public dissatisfaction with President MUSHARRAF, coupled with the assassination of the prominent and popular political leader, Benazir BHUTTO, in late 2007, and MUSHARRAF's resignation in August 2008, led to the September presidential election of Asif ZARDARI, BHUTTO's widower.

On CBS' "60 Minutes," on 15 February 2009, Pakistani President Zardari proclaimed that "we are aware of the fact [that the Taliban are] trying to take over the state of Pakistan. ... So we're fighting for the survival of Pakistan." Zardari, acknowledged that the Taliban were present "in huge amounts" of his country.

Asif Ali Zardari was born on July 26, 1955 in a prominent Baloch family from Sindh. He is the son of veteran politician Mr. Hakim Ali Zardari. On his maternal side he is the great-grandson of Khan Bahadur Hassan Ali Effendi, the founder of the first educational institution for Muslims in Sindh. The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was among the prominent students to graduate from the Sindh Madrasa. Mr Zardari received his primary education at the Karachi Grammar School and his secondary education at Cadet College Petaro. He pursued his further education in London where he studied Business.

He was married to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in 1987 and was widowed on December 27, 2007 when Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a terrorist attack in Rawalpindi. Ms Bhutto was PPP Chairperson from 1979 until her assassination and was twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. They had three children, Bilawal, born in 1988, Bakhtawar, born in 1990 and Aseefa, born in 1993.

Ms. Bhutto was elected Prime Minister in 1988, dismissed by the President of Pakistan in August 1990 for alleged corruption and inability to maintain law and order, elected Prime Minister again in October 1993, and dismissed by the President again in November 1996. At various times, Mr. Zardari served as Senator, Environment Minister and Minister for Investment in the Bhutto government. Mr Zardari served as a Member of the National Assembly twice (1990-93 and 1993-96), as Federal Minister for the Environment (1993-1996) and as Federal Minister for Investment (1995-96). He was the principal architect of the Benazir Bhutto government's efforts to transform Pakistan's energy power sector by encouraging major investment opportunities in power generation. He was also the initiator of the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline project.

Mr. Zardari's political career spans two decades spent working closely with Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. During this period he helped formulate policies that expanded the freedom of the media, revolutionized telecommunications and opened Pakistan for foreign direct investment. During Benazir Bhutto's first term in office CNN and BBC were allowed broadcasting rights in Pakistan and mobile telephone services introduced at Mr Zardari's initiative.

The 1988 elections, scheduled following President Zia ul-Haq's death in August 1988, brought to power Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. On August 2, 1990, charging official corruption, nepotism and malfeasance and citing authority under the Pakistan Constitution, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the Bhutto government, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies and scheduled new elections for October 1990. Over the next three years Bhutto consistently pressed for new elections, even as she and her husband faced criminal charges of official corruption. Bhutto's persistence led to repeated clashes with government forces amid charges of intimidation and partisan violence.

In between the two Bhutto administrations, Asif Zardari was incarcerated in 1990 and 1991 on charges of corruption; the charges were eventually dropped. Amnesty International expressed concern that the charges were politically motivated. In June 1991, approximately 600 PPP members were reportedly arrested after the murder of Nabi Sher Junejo who was the judge trying the case of Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Most of those arrested were subsequently released. In August 1991, more than 30 PPP members were reportedly arrested in Karachi in connection with the murder of a Criminal Investigation Agency (CIA) officer working on the Asif Ali Zardari case. By mid-1993, the courts had handed down acquittals on ten of the original twelve charges against Asif Zardari. Two charges remained pending.

During her second term in office, in addition to the independent power producers (IPPs) being allowed in, Mr Zardari encouraged the introduction of FM radio in the private sector. During Ms. Bhutto's second term there were increasing allegations of corruption in her government, and a major target of those allegations was Mr. Zardari. By 1995, Zardari was widely known as ''Mr. Ten Percent'' for his role as an intermediary in deals involving the Government. Asif Zardari accepted bribes that were actually not paid in Pakistan. It appears that he engaged in complex transactions that involved not only hawala, but also nominee arrangements (i.e. accounts and deals under a front-man's name), shell companies, real estate deals, and bank accounts in off shore secrecy jurisdictions.

While Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister, her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto was gunned down in front of his own home in full daylight. On the night of Thursday 19th September 1996, the estranged brother of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the only surviving son of the Martyred Lion of Sindh Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mir Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead along with 6 other party activists in a police encounter near his residence. Murtaza Bhutto had long been a political opponent of his sister Benazir Bhutto, a constant thorn in her side, accusing her government of widespread corruption. Such are the convolutions in Pakistani politics that most Pakistanis believe that Benazir Bhutto willingly shared her bed with her brother's killer, Asif Zardari.

Mr Zardari was elected Senator in 1997 and served in that capacity until the dissolution of the Senate following the military coup of 1999.

On September 8, 1997, the Swiss government issued orders freezing the Zardari and Bhutto accounts at Citibank and three other banks in Switzerland at the request of the Pakistani government. In July 1998, Mr. Zardari was indicted for violation of Swiss money laundering law in connection with the same incident. Ms. Bhutto was indicted in Switzerland for the same offense in August 1998.

In October 1998, Pakistan indicted Mr. Zardari and Ms. Bhutto for accepting kickbacks from the two Swiss companies in exchange for the award of a government contract. On April 15, 1999, after an 18-month trial, Pakistan's Lahore High Court convicted Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari of accepting the kickbacks and sentenced them to 5 years in prison, fined them $8.6 million and disqualified them from holding public office. Ms. Bhutto, who lived in London, denounced the decision. Mr. Zardari remained in jail.

It has been reported that the government of Pakistan claims that Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari stole over $1 billion from the country. During the period 1994 to 1997, Citibank opened and maintained three private bank accounts in Switzerland and a consumer account in Dubai for three corporations under Mr. Zardari's control. There were allegations that some of these accounts were used to disguise $10 million in kickbacks for a gold importing contract to Pakistan. According to the New York Times, in December 1994, the Bhutto government awarded Abdul Razzak Yaqub, a Pakistani gold bullion trader living in Dubai, an exclusive gold import license.

Asif Zardari waited for more than 5 years for the start of his trial on charges of killing his brother-in-law, Murtaza Bhutto in 1997. The law stipulates that detainees must be brought to trial within 30 days of their arrest. Under both the Hudood and standard criminal codes, there were bailable and non-bailable offenses. Bail pending trial is required for bailable offenses and permitted at a court's discretion for non-bailable offenses with sentences of less than 10 years. In practice, judges denied bail at the request of police, the community, or on payment of bribes. In many cases, trials did not start until 6 months after the filing of charges, and in some cases individuals remained in pretrial detention for periods longer than the maximum sentence for the crime for which they were charged.

In May 1999 Asif Zardariwas taken from prison to a police interrogation center in Karachi, where he was kept awake for 4 days, beaten, and cut with knives. On 19 May 1999, he was taken to a hospital for treatment. Observers doubted police claims that cuts on his neck were the result of a suicide attempt. In August 1999 the secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) noted in a public statement that the IPU was "alarmed" over the alleged torture of Zardari.

In 1999, Zardari was tried and convicted on corruption charges. The Government continued to detain Zardarion a variety of corruption charges. In August 2003, an investigative magistrate in Switzerland issued a preliminary judgment finding Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari guilty of money laundering and receiving bribes from two Swiss firms nine years ealier and proposed a suspended six-month prison sentence and $50,000 fine for each of them. Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari rejected the Swiss finding; a formal trial was pending at the end of 2002.

In November 2004, the Supreme Court granted bail to Asif Zardari in the final of several outstanding cases against him. Zardari was released, but on 21 December 2004, a Karachi anti-terrorism court cancelled Zardari's bail in a separate murder case. He was rearrested at the Islamabad airport while on his way to address a political rally; however, after 24 hours of house arrest in Karachi, Zardari was again released and remained free on bail the end of 2004. The Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) claimed all cases against Zardari were political and that the cancellation of his bail in December 2004 was ordered by the Government to prevent him from holding marches and rallies in Punjab.

Mr Zardari was targeted for vilification and persecution and bore the hardship with fortitude. He spent eleven and a half years in prison in conditions often unacceptable by human rights standards, without any charge ever being proven against him. He won election as MNA and as senator while in prison. Despite many offers from the government of the time to leave Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) or to go abroad under a negotiated political exit, he remained committed to Party goals and continued his fight for justice and the return of a democratically elected civilian leadership.

In October 2007, then-President Pervez Musharraf issued a controversial decree that eventually resulted in most court proceedings against Zardari being dropped. Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf, in a reconciliation deal, agreed that six other graft charges against her husband would be dismissed by the government.

14 March 2008 Zardari had the last outstanding domestic corruption charge against him removed. That case related to importing a German-made luxury car without paying a duty. On 25 March 2008 a court in the Pakistani southern port city of Karachi acquitted widower of slain leader Benazir Bhutto in a murder case of a judge and his son. Asif Ali Zardari was charged in the assassination of double murder of High Court Judge Justice Nizam Ahmed and his son Nadim Ahmed, a lawyer, who were shot dead in an attack on June 10, 1996, outside their house in Karachi. Zardari's lawyer Shadat Awan said that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence against his client and that the case was filed on political grounds. Zardari still faced a case of alleged narcotics smuggling and the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, the slain brother of Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Zardari was asked by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Pakistan Peoples Party to serve as Chairman of the Party after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Although he was elected unopposed, he nominated his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for that role and instead accepted the job of Co-Chairman of the PPP. After Ms. Bhutto's death he remained in the frontlines of shaping a national consensus at the federal level on the politics initiated by Benazir Bhutto. He was elected Co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party in January 2008 following the assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The PPP, under Mr. Zardari's leadership, helped to remove General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the unconstitutional President of Pakistan, from office in a historic move, through a series of complex negotiations and political diplomacy. Mr. Zardari united Pakistan's major political parties and this unprecedented act was accomplished without any violence.

On September 6, 2008 Mr. Zardari was elected President of Pakistan with an overwhelming majority in the presidential election. Under Mr. Zardari's leadership of the Party, the PPP's candidate for Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan unopposed. This was a singular and unprecedented event in Pakistan's political history.

President Asif Ali Zardari is also Vice President of the Socialist International, the worldwide organisation of social-democratic, socialist and labour parties which brings together 170 political parties and organisations from all continents. The Socialist International held its 23rd Congress in Athens, Greece from 30 June to 2 July 2008 with close to 700 representatives from 150 parties and organisations of 120 countries attending. The President of Pakistan (at that time invited in his capacity as Co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party) was elected as a vice-president of the Socialist International at that meeting.

Political analysts say Zardari's strong political support in the legislatures and Musharraf's expansion of presidential powers could make Zardari the country's most powerful civilian president. He has pledged to reign in the presidency's broad powers, which include the ability to dismiss parliament, but many Pakistanis are skeptical that he will follow through.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:15:58 ZULU