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Commentary: Disturbed nukes?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Aug. 27, 2008 at 10:19 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- Coalition politics is "always a messy process," said Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, as he explained the helter-skelter confusion that followed the exit of strongman Pervez Musharraf. After nine years of unchallenged power, Musharraf had taken a leaf from France's late President Charles de Gaulle's playbook, which held "the graveyards of the world are full of indispensable people," and he got out of Dodge ahead of the impeachment posse of political vigilantes out to depose him.

The country's two leading politicians, now in an uneasy, distrustful coalition, had powerful reasons to impeach Musharraf. Nawaz Sharif was himself deposed as prime minister by Musharraf in a bloodless 1999 coup. Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, had been kept in prison by Musharraf on a slew of corruption charges, none of which, he says today, led to a conviction.

At least not yet. As a test of the coalition's solidity, Nawaz demanded the return of the 60 judges and the head of the Supreme Court dismissed by Musharraf under emergency rule last November. But Zardari demurred. He feared that once restored to the bench, the old judiciary, whose anti-American proclivities are well-known, would dust off some of the corruption charges against him now that he is seen as Washington's new man in Islamabad.

So the messy coalition of Pakistan's two principal parties fell apart before it had even begun to govern. And Zardari is now in line to get elected president Sept. 6 by a majority of both federal houses of Parliament and the four provincial assemblies. Allied with a few smaller parties, the Pakistan People's Party, the country's largest, which Zardari inherited from his wife after she was assassinated in December, has enough votes to give him the same executive powers held by Musharraf.

If all goes well -- or badly, depending on one's viewpoint -- Zardari, who was suffering from serious mental illnesses, according to court documents filed by his New York doctors, will become president of one of the world's eight nuclear powers.

In court documents examined by the Financial Times, Philip Saltiel, a New York City psychiatrist, said the widower of two-term Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, which included post-traumatic stress disorder, in medical reports that spanned more than two years.

Zardari spent more than 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons on corruption charges, during which he said he was tortured. Saltiel's diagnosis said Zardari's imprisonment had left him suffering from "emotional instability," as well as memory and concentration problems. "I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year," Saltiel wrote. That year passed three years ago.

According to the FT, Stephen Reich, a New York psychologist, wrote Zardari was suffering from high anxiety, which led to thoughts about suicide. Zardari knew about the diagnoses, as he had used them to argue for the postponement of an English High Court case in which the Pakistani government was suing him for corruption against his U.K. assets.

Corruption charges were dropped in Pakistan last March after Musharraf interceded for the sake of national reconciliation. Shortly thereafter, all charges were also dropped in the United Kingdom, Spain and Switzerland.

In prison, Zardari's friends say, he was surrounded by fear as there were several attempts to kill him. But recent medical examinations and his Pakistani doctors have certified him "mentally stable and medically fit to run for political office, free of any of his previous symptoms." His friends say they were impressed to see the man long known in Pakistan as "Mister 10 percent" go through the trauma of his wife's assassination and still hold his family close together in such a trying time.

Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau once lined up 62 witnesses and 18,000 pages of testimony against Zardari's alleged corrupt practices. Typical of many cases was the one filed before the Lahore High Court charging that Zardari, in collusion with others, "obtained illegal gratification and undue pecuniary advantage in the form of commissions and kickbacks in the purchase" of foreign tractors.

It was Zardari's increasingly lucrative deals that prompted President Farooq Leghari to dismiss Mrs. Bhutto and her government in 1996. Her husband was then her "minister of investment."

Today, the 55-year-old Zardari is Pakistan's most prominent political leader with the largest number of seats in Parliament. As president, he would be the commander in chief, hire and fire prime ministers at will, be in charge of the all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency -- and Pakistan's nuclear deterrent, which would remain under army control.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of the political melodrama in Islamabad, Pakistan's Taliban terrorists were spilling out of the tribal agencies on the Afghan border and roaming at will the North-West Frontier province. The economy is in shambles with inflation at 30 percent -- and food prices rising even faster. Another wing of the Taliban movement, dedicated to Afghanistan, was edging ever closer to the capital of Kabul, now secured by German and Belgian soldiers under NATO command, and the Afghan army.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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