Asif Ali Zardari
- Party:Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)
- Permanent Address:
- Local Address:
- Email:House No. 1, Street No. 85, G-6/4, Islamabad - 051-2276014-5, Fax: 051-2276016
Asif Ali Zardari (Urdu: آصف علی زرداری; Sindhi: آصف علي زرداري); born 26 July 1955) is a Pakistani politician and current co-chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party. He served as the 11th President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013.
A landowner from Sindh, Zardari rose to prominence after his marriage to Benazir Bhutto in 1987, becoming the First Gentleman after his wife was elected Prime Minister in 1988. When Bhutto’s government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990, Zardari was widely criticized for involvement in corruption scandals that led to its collapse. When Bhutto was reelected in 1993, Zardari served as Federal Investment Minister and Chairperson Pakistan Environmental Protection Council in her second administration. Following increasing tensions between Bhutto’s brother Murtaza and Zardari, Murtaza was killed in a police encounter in Karachi on 20 September 1996. Bhutto’s government was dismissed a month later by President Farooq Leghari, while Zardari was arrested and indicted for Murtaza’s murder as well as corruption charges.
Although incarcerated, he nominally served in Parliament after being elected to the National Assembly in 1990 and Senate in 1997. He was released from jail in 2004 and went into self-exile to Dubai, but returned when Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007. As the new Co-Chairman of the PPP, he led his party to victory in the 2008 general elections. He spearheaded a coalition that forced military ruler Pervez Musharraf to resign, and was elected President on 6 September 2008. He was acquitted of various criminal charges the same year.
As president, Zardari remained a strong U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan, despite prevalent public disapproval of the United States following the Raymond Davis incident and the Nato attack in Salala in 2011. Domestically, Zardari achieved the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 2010, which constitutionally reduced his presidential powers. His attempt to prevent the reinstatement of Supreme Court judges failed in the face of massive protests led by his political rival Nawaz Sharif. The restored Supreme Court dismissed the PPP’s elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani for contempt in 2012, after Gillani refused to write to the Government of Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari. Zardari’s tenure was also criticised for mishandling nationwide floods in 2010, and growing terrorist violence. Following multiple bombings of Hazaras in Quetta in early 2013, Zardari dismissed his provincial government in Balochistan.
Towards the end of his term, Zardari recorded abysmally low approval ratings, ranging from 11 to 14%. After the PPP was heavily defeated in the 2013 general election, Zardari became the country’s first elected president to complete his constitutional term on 8 September 2013. Zardari’s legacy is extremely divisive figure, often accused of corruption and cronyism. The Zardari-led PPP continues to form the provincial government in Sindh.
Early life and education
Zardari was born on 26 July 1955 in Karachi, Sindh in the Zardari family. He is a Sindhi of Baloch origin, belonging to a Jat clan of the Sindhi-Baloch Zardari tribe. He is the only son of Hakim Ali Zardari, a tribal chief and prominent landowner, and Zarrin Zardari.
In his youth, he enjoyed polo and boxing. He led a polo team known as the Zardari Four. His father owned Bambino a famous cinema in Karachi—and donated movie equipment to his school. He also appeared in a movie, Salgirah, as a child artist. Zardari’s academic background remains a question mark. He received his primary education from Karachi Grammar School. His official biography says he graduated from Cadet College, Petaro in 1972. He went to St Patrick’s High School, Karachi from 1973–74; a school clerk says he failed his final examination there. In March 2008, he claimed he had graduated from the London School of Business Studies with a bachelor of education degree in the early 1970s. Zardari’s official biography states he also attended Pedinton School in Britain. His British education, however, has not been confirmed, and a search did not turn up any Pedinton School in London. The issue of his diploma was contentious because a 2002 rule required candidates for Parliament to hold a college degree, but the rule was overturned by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in April 2008.
Early political career
Zardari’s initial political career was unsuccessful. In 1983, he lost an election for a district council seat in Nawabshah, a city of Sindh, where his family owned thousands of acres of farmland. He then went into real estate.
Benazir Bhutto era
Marriage to Bhutto
He married Benazir Bhutto on 18 December 1987. The arranged marriage, done in accordance with Pakistani culture, was initially considered an unlikely match. The lavish sunset ceremony in Karachi was followed by immense night celebrations that included over 100,000 people. The marriage enhanced Bhutto’s political position in a country where older unmarried women are frowned upon. Zardari deferred to his wife’s wishes by agreeing to stay out of politics.
In 1988, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq died in a plane crash. A few months later, Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister when her party won 94 of 207 seats contested in the 1988 elections.
Involvement in the first Bhutto Administration and first imprisonment
Zardari, Benazir Bhutto, and baby Bilawal in a state visit to Andrews Air Force Base in 1989
He generally stayed out of his wife’s first administration, but he and his associates became entangled in corruption cases linked to the government. He was largely blamed for the collapse of the Bhutto administration.
After the dismissal of Bhutto’s government in August 1990, Benazir Bhutto and Zardari were prohibited from leaving the country by security forces under the direction of the Pakistan Army. During the interim government between August and October, caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a Bhutto rival, initiated investigations of corruption by the Bhutto administration. Jatoi accused Zardari of using his wife’s political position to charge a ten percent commission for obtaining permission to set up any project or to receive loans. He was tagged with the nickname “Mr. Ten Percent”.
He was arrested on 10 October 1990 on charges relating to kidnapping and extortion. The charges alleged an extortion scheme that involved tying a supposed bomb to a British businessman’s leg. The Bhutto family considered the indictment politically motivated and fabricated. In the October 1990 elections, he was elected to the National Assembly while in jail. Bhutto and the PPP staged a walkout from the inaugural session of the National Assembly to protest Zardari’s incarceration. He posted $20,000 bail, but his release was blocked by a government ordinance that removed a court’s power to release suspects being tried in the terrorist court, which fast-track trials for alleged terrorists. The ordinance was later revoked and a special court acquitted him of bank fraud and conspiracy to murder political opponents. He was freed in February 1993. In March 1994, Zardari was acquitted of bank fraud charges. All other corruption charges relating to Bhutto’s first term were dropped or thrown out of the courts.
On March 25, 1991, the hijackers aboard Singapore Airlines Flight 117 demanded Zardari’s release among other demands. The hijackers were killed by Singapore Commandos.
Political involvement in the second Bhutto Administration
In April 1993, he became one of the 18 cabinet ministers in the caretaker government that succeeded Nawaz Sharif’s first abridged premiership. The caretaker government lasted until the July elections. After Bhutto’s election, he served as her Investment Minister, chief of the intelligence bureau, and the head of the Federal Investigation Agency. In February 1994, Benazir sent Zardari to meet with Saddam Hussein in Iraq to deliver medicine in exchange for three detained Pakistanis arrested on the ambiguous Kuwait-Iraq border. In April 1994, Zardari denied allegations that he was wielding unregulated influence as a spouse and acting as “de-facto Prime Minister”. In March 1995, he was appointed chairman of the new Environment Protection Council.
During the beginning of the second Bhutto Administration, a Bhutto family feud between Benazir and her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, surfaced over the political future of Murtaza Bhutto, Nusrat’s son and Benazir’s younger brother. Benazir thanked Zardari for his support. In September 1996, Murtaza and seven others died in a shootout with police in Karachi, while the city was undergoing a three-year civil war. At Murtaza’s funeral, Nusrat accused Benazir and Zardari of being responsible and vowed to pursue prosecution. Ghinwa Bhutto, Murtaza’s widow, also accused Zardari of being behind his killing. President Farooq Leghari, who would dismiss the Bhutto government seven weeks after Murtaza’s death, also suspected Benazir and Zardari’s involvement. Several of Pakistan’s leading newspapers alleged that Zardari wanted his brother-in-law out of the way because of Murtaza’s activities as head of a breakaway faction of the PPP.
In November 1996, Bhutto’s government was dismissed by Leghari primarily because of corruption and Murtaza’s death. Zardari was arrested in Lahore while attempting to flee the country to Dubai.
Jail and exile
New York Times report
A major report was published in January 1998 by The New York Times detailing Zardari’s vast corruption and misuse of public funds. The report discussed $200 million in kickbacks to Zardari and a Pakistani partner for a $4 billion contract with French military contractor Dassault Aviation, in a deal that fell apart only when the Bhutto government was dismissed. It contained details of two payments of $5 million each by a gold bullion dealer in return for a monopoly on gold imports. It had information from Pakistani investigators that the Bhutto family had allegedly accrued more than $1.5 billion in illicit profits through kickbacks in virtually every sphere of government activity. It also reported Zardari’s mid-1990s spending spree, which included hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on jewellery. The arrangements made by the Bhutto family for their wealth relied on Western property companies, Western lawyers, and a network of Western friends. The report described how Zardari had arranged secret contracts, painstaking negotiations, and the dismissal of anyone who objected to his dealings.
Citibank, already under fire for its private-banking practices, got into further trouble as a result of the report. Zardari’s financial history was one case study in a 1999 U.S. Senate report on vulnerabilities in banking procedures.
Second imprisonment and conviction
In March 1997, Zardari was elected to the Senate while in a Karachi jail. In December 1997, he was flown to Islamabad under tight security to take his oath.
In July 1998, he was indicted for corruption in Pakistan after the Swiss government handed over documents to Pakistani authorities relating to money laundering. The Swiss had also indicted him for money laundering. At the same time, in a separate case, he and 18 others were indicted for conspiracy to murder Murtaza Bhutto. After criminal prosecutions began, Citibank closed Zardari’s account.
In April 1999, Bhutto and Zardari were convicted for receiving indemnities from a Swiss goods inspection company that was hired to end corruption in the collection of customs duties. The couple received a fine of $8.6 million. Both were also sentenced to five years imprisonment, but Bhutto could not be extradited back to Pakistan from her self-imposed exile. Zardari was already in jail awaiting trial on separate charges. The evidence used against them had been gathered by Swiss investigators and the Pakistani Bureau of Accountability.
In May 1999, he was hospitalised after an alleged attempted suicide. He claimed it was a murder attempt by the police.
In August 2003, a Swiss judge convicted Bhutto and Zardari of money laundering and sentenced them to six months imprisonment and a fine of $50,000. In addition, they were required to return $11 million to the Pakistani government. The conviction involved charges relating to kickbacks from two Swiss firms in exchange for customs fraud. In France, Poland, and Switzerland, the couple faced additional allegations.
In November 2004, he was released on bail by court order. A month later, he was unexpectedly arrested for failing to show up for a hearing on a murder case in Islamabad. He was placed under house arrest in Karachi. A day later, he was released on $5,000 bail. His release, rearrest, and then release again was regarded as a sign of growing reconciliation between Musharraf’s government and the PPP. After his second release in late 2004, he left for exile in Dubai.
Exile and legal problems
He returned to Lahore in April 2005. Police prevented him from holding rallies by escorting him from the airport to his home. He criticised Musharraf’s government, but rumours of reconciliation between Musharraf and the PPP grew. Zardari went back to Dubai in May 2005.
In June 2005, he suffered a heart attack and was treated in the United Arab Emirates. A PPP spokesman stated he underwent angioplasty in the United States. In September 2005, he did not show up for a Rawalpindi hearing on corruption charges; the court issued an arrest warrant. His lawyers stated he could not come because he was recovering from his treatment. Following a request by the Rawalpindi court, Interpol issued a red notice in January 2006 against the couple which called on member nations to decide on the couple’s extradition.
When Bhutto announced in September 2007 her upcoming return to Pakistan, her husband was in New York City undergoing medical treatment. After the October 2007 bombing in Karachi that tainted Bhutto’s return, he accused Pakistani intelligence services of being behind the attacks and claimed “it was not done by militants”. He had not accompanied Bhutto, staying in Dubai with their daughters. Bhutto called for the removal of the chief investigator of the attacks because she claimed he had been involved in Zardari’s alleged torture in prison in 1999.
In November 2007, Musharraf instituted emergency rule for six weeks (see Pakistani state of emergency, 2007), under the pretext of rising Islamist militancy, a few days after Bhutto’s departure for Dubai to meet with Zardari. Immediately after the state of emergency was invoked, Bhutto returned to Pakistan, while Zardari again stayed behind in Dubai. Emergency rule was initiated right before the Supreme Court of Pakistan began deliberations on the legality of Musharraf’s U.S.-backed proposal—the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)—to drop corruption charges against Bhutto and Zardari in return for a joint Bhutto-Musharraf coalition to govern Pakistan. Bhutto and Zardari sympathised with Musharraf on his feud with the Supreme Court, but simultaneously criticised the imposition of martial law. Before the Supreme Court could issue a decision, Musharraf replaced its members with his supporters.
In the midst of his exile, Zardari had several different legal problems. In Pakistan, Musharraf granted him amnesty for his alleged offences through the National Reconciliation Ordinance, drafted in October 2007. However, the ordinance faced mounting public pressure and an uncompromising judiciary. In addition, it only dealt with charges up to 1999. This left open the possibility of investigations into his alleged involvement in about $2 million in illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, discovered in October 2005, under the oil-for-food program. If the ordinance was rescinded, he would have had to deal with charges relating to evading duties on an armoured BMW, commissions from a Polish tractor manufacturer, and a kickback from a gold bullion dealer. In Switzerland, Bhutto and Zardari appealed the 2003 Swiss conviction, which required the reopening of the case in October 2007. In November 2007, Swiss authorities returned the frozen $60 million to him through offshore companies because of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. In Spain, a criminal investigation was opened over the money laundering for the oil-for-food program because of the illicit profits handled through Spanish firms. In Britain, he was fighting a civil case against the Pakistani government for the proceeds from the liquidation sale of a Surrey mansion. He successfully used his medical diagnosis to postpone a verdict on his British manor trial.
In exile, he shifted between homes in New York, London, and Dubai, where his three children lived.
On the night of 27 December 2007, he returned to Pakistan following his wife’s assassination.
Co-chairperson of the PPP
Bhutto’s assassination and succession
Zardari prevented Bhutto’s autopsy in accordance with Islamic principles. He and their children attended her funeral, which was held the next day. He denied government allegations that the assassination was sponsored by Al-Qaida. He called for an international inquiry into her death and stated that she would still be alive if Musharraf’s government had provided adequate protection. He and his family offered to accept Musharraf’s demand to exhume Bhutto’s body in exchange for a United Nations inquiry, but Musharraf rejected the proposal.
In Bhutto’s political will, she had designated Zardari her successor as party leader. However, their nineteen-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, became Chairman of the PPP because Zardari favoured Bilawal to represent Bhutto’s legacy, in part to avoid division within the party due to his own unpopularity. He did, however, serve as Co-Chairman of the PPP for at least three years until Bilawal completed his studies overseas.
Parliamentary elections and coalition formation
Zardari called for no delays to the 8 January parliamentary elections and for the participation of all opposition parties. Other major political parties quickly agreed to participate, ending any chance of a boycott. Because of the turmoil after the Bhutto assassination, the elections were postponed six weeks to 18 February. In January 2008, he suggested that if his party did win a majority, it might form a coalition with Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q). He and Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) party (PML-N), threatened national protests if any vote-rigging was attempted. He himself could not run for Parliament because he had not filed election papers in November 2008, back when he had no foreseeable political ambition while Bhutto was alive.
The PPP and the PML-N won the largest and second largest number of seats respectively in the February elections. He and Sharif agreed to form a coalition government, ending American hopes of a power-sharing deal between him and Musharraf. They agreed to restore the judiciary, but Zardari took a less stringent stance than Sharif. He met with U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, who pushed for a pact with Musharraf. To strengthen the new coalition, he reached out to Awami National Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Baloch nationalist leaders, who had all boycotted the elections.
After weeks of speculation and party infighting, he said he did not want to become Prime Minister. In mid-March 2008, he chose Yousaf Raza Gillani for Prime Minister in a snub to the more politically powerful Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
He and Sharif agreed in a 9 March 2008 agreement, known as the Murree Declaration, to the reinstatement by 30 April 2008 of 60 judges previously sacked by Musharraf. The deadline was later extended to 12 May. He and Sharif held unsuccessful talks at London in May. After the coalition failed to restore the judiciary, the PML-N withdrew from the government in mid-May, pulling its ministers out of the cabinet. The coalition regrouped, again with the PML-N, and proposed a constitutional amendment that would remove the power of the President to dismiss Parliament. By late May, the coalition was set in a confrontation with Musharraf. At the same time, the government was successful in getting Pakistan readmitted to the Commonwealth.
He and Sharif met in Lahore in June 2008 to discuss Musharraf’s removal and the constitutional amendments, which the PML-N viewed as not going far enough to fulfill the Murree declaration. He opposed impeachment calls because he claimed the coalition did not have the two-thirds majority in both legislative bodies—National Assembly and Senate. He was unwilling to restore the judiciary as divisions in the coalition grew and popular sentiment shifted towards Sharif. The coalition criticised the government for barring Sharif from competing in the June by-elections. Because of the impasses over Musharraf and the judiciary, the coalition could not address rising food shortages and spiraling inflation, which was the highest in 30 years.
In August 2008, Zardari relented, and the coalition agreed to proceed full speed towards Musharraf’s impeachment by drafting a charge-sheet against him. The coalition charged him with high treason for the 1999 coup and the imposition of martial law. He warned Musharraf against dismissing Parliament, and the coalition selected Gillani instead of Musharraf to represent Pakistan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On 18 August, Musharraf resigned in order to avoid impeachment. Although Zardari favoured granting Musharraf immunity from prosecution, the coalition could not agree on a decision. The coalition also could not reach a united stance on the future of the judiciary.
Rise to presidency
Presidential elections were held within three weeks after the departure of Musharraf. Zardari vowed to pursue an unpopular campaign against tribal militancy in Pakistan and had the support of the United States. He claimed he had a London business school degree to satisfy a prerequisite for the presidency, but his party did not produce a certificate. He was endorsed by the PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for the presidency. The PML-N nominated former justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, while the PML-Q put forth Mushahid Hussain Sayed. Zardari won a majority in the Electoral College with 481 of 702 votes. He was elected President on 6 September 2008.
President of Pakistan
At the inauguration on 9 September 2008, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a guest of honour, which was a signal for much closer cooperation between the two nations in addressing the tribal insurgency along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. After the election, Zardari promised to approve the constitutional provision that removed the President’s power to dismiss Parliament, but public scepticism remained on whether he would actually carry out his promise. His economic competence was questioned after allegations that he had raised grain procurement prices through inflationary subsidies and scrapped the capital gains tax. His first parliamentary speech was overshadowed by 20 September Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing. A few days later, he went to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on his first overseas trip as President.
Reduction of presidential powers
In late November 2009, Zardari ceded to Prime Minister Gillani the chairmanship of the National Command Authority, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal oversight agency.
In December 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Reconciliation Ordinance amnesty was unconstitutional, which cleared the way for the revival of corruption cases against Zardari. Though Zardari had immunity from prosecution because he was President, the end of NRO and his earlier corruption cases challenged the legality of his presidency. Calls for his resignation escalated. Zardari, who rarely left the Aiwan-e-Sadr presidential palace, responded with a nationwide spurt of speeches in January 2011. In January 2010, the Supreme Court ordered Pakistan’s government to reopen Zardari’s corruption charges in Switzerland. However, Zardari prevented the MQM-leaning Attorney General, Anwar Mansoor, from filing charges, so Mansoor resigned in protest in early April. That same month, Zardari won a key victory against the judiciary over his corruption trials when Geneva Attorney General Daniel Zappelli stated that Zardari can not be prosecuted under international laws because of his presidential immunity. Zardari was supported by Prime Minister Gilani, who defied the Supreme Court order.
In February 2010, Zardari sparked a standoff by attempting to appoint a Supreme Court candidate without the court’s approval, but the confrontation ended after he backed down and nominated a candidate acceptable by the court.
2011 Dubai hospitalization
In early December 2011 Zardari flew to Dubai undergoing medical tests and treatment, reportedly for a “small stroke”. According to the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Zardari sought medical treatment outside of Pakistan because of “threats to his life”. He finds himself currently in the midst of the “Memogate” controversy. Zardari left the hospital on 14 December to recuperate at the Persian Gulf, while his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, assumed a more prominent role in Pakistan. By 19 December, Zardari had returned to Pakistan.
Zardari and Benazir Bhutto had one son and two daughters. His son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is the current Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. His older daughter, Bakhtawar, was born on 25 January 1990, and his younger daughter, Asifa, was born on 2 February 1993. After Benazir Bhutto’s death, his sister Faryal Talpur became the guardian of his children and he changed Bilawal Zardari’s name to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He also has a second sister, Azra Peechoho.
Pakistani news media, including the nation’s largest Urdu newspaper (from the Jang Group), reported that Zardari had married Tanveer Zamani in January 2011. Zardari and Zamani denied the rumours. Zardari threatened legal action against the Jang Group.
His father Hakim Ali Zardari died in May 2011. Zardari decided not to assume leadership (tumandari) of the Zardari tribe and instead crowned Bilawal as the tribe’s chieftain.
His mental health has been a subject of controversy. He has repeatedly claimed he was tortured while in prison. He was diagnosed with dementia, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder from 2005 to 2007, which helped influence the verdict of one of his corruption trials. He now claims he is completely healthy, with only high blood pressure and diabetes.
Zardari is said to have a belief in occult and superstitions. According to a report by the Dawn newspaper, “a black goat is slaughtered almost daily to ward off the ‘evil eye’ and protect President Zardari from ‘black magic.’ “It has been an old practice of Zardari to offer Sadaqah (charity) of animal sacrifice and distribute meat to the poor. He has been doing this for a long time,” the newspaper quoted the Pakistan president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar as saying.
In 2017, Zardari is currently the 3rd richest person in Pakistan, with an estimated net worth of US$1.8 billion. He amassed great wealth while his wife was Prime Minister. In 2007, he received $60 million in his Swiss bank account through offshore companies under his name. He was reported to have estates in Surrey, West End of London, Normandy, Manhattan (a condominium in Belaire Apartments), and Dubai, as well as a 16th-century chateau in Normandy. In Britain, he used a common legal device—the purchase of property through nominees with no family link to the Bhuttos. His homes in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad are called Bilawal House I, Bilawal House II, and Zardari House respectively.
Completion of presidential tenure
Zardari completed his five-year term on 8 September 2013, becoming the first democratically-elected President in the 66-year-long history of Pakistan. He received a guard of honour while leaving the Aiwan-e-Sadr. He then attended a party worker gathering at his residence in Lahore. According to his party workers he will settle in Lahore and will take part in politics He is succeeded by Mamnoon Hussain.