Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan


Asif Ali Zardari (Urdu: آصف علی زرداری; Sindhi: آصف علي زرداري; born 26 July 1955) is the 11th and current President of Pakistan and the Co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zardari is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who twice served as Prime Minister of Pakistan. When his wife was assassinated in December 2007, he became the leader of the PPP. He successfully led the PPP through general elections in 2008 and led a coalition that forced Pervez Musharraf’s resignation.

His political career has been mired by corruption allegations, for which he was in prison from 1990–1993 and 1996-2004. He became widely known as “Mr. 10 Percent” during the premiership of Benazir Bhutto because of his alleged role in obtaining kickbacks as an intermediary in government deals. As President, his attempt to prevent the reinstatement of judges failed after massive protests led by Nawaz Sharif, his chief political rival. He suffered further political embarrassment for flirting with Sarah Palinand for going to Europe a few days after the 2010 Pakistan floods.

Early life and education

Zardari was born on 26 July 1955 in Karachi, Sindh. He is a Sindhi of Baloch origin. He is the son of Hakim Ali Zardari, who was chief of a Sindhi tribe and a prominent landowner, and Zarrin Zardari.

As a youth, he earned reputation as a “rabble-rouser”. He enjoyed polo and boxing. He led a polo team known as the Zardari Four. His father owned Bambino, a famous movie theater in Karachi, and donated movie equipment to his school.

Zardari’s academic background remains a question. 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 2008, a PPP spokesman said Zardari had graduated from the London School of Economics and Business Studies. Zardari’s official biography says he attended Pedinton School. His schools in Britain couldn’t be located. A 2002 rule requires candidates for parliament hold a college degree. The 2002 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 north of Karachi 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 considered initially 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 posture 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 and a few months later Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female prime minister after the 1988 elections.

Political 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 tangled 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, began investigations of corruption of the Bhutto administration. Jatoi accused Zardari with using his wife’s political position to further his business deals by charging a 10% commission to get permission for setting up any project or to receive loans. He was tagged with the nickname Mr. Ten Percent.

He was arrested on 10 October 1990 for 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 National Assembly in protest of 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 in terrorist court. 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.

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 Bhutto’s Investment Minister, chief of the intelligence bureau, and the head of the Federal Investigation Agency. In February 1994, Benazir sent Zardari to meet Saddam Hussein in Iraq to deliver medicine in exchange for three detained Pakistanis arrested on the ambiguous Kuwait-Iraq border. In April 1994, Zardari refuted 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, unraveled over the political future of Murtaza Bhutto. 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’s and Zardari’s involvement. Several of Pakistan’s leading newspapers alleged that Zardari wanted Murtaza 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 in January 1998 was published by The New York Times detailing Zardari’s vast corruption and misuse of public funds. The report discussed Zardari’s $200 million kickbacks 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 on a single payment of a $10 million kickback from 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 discussed Zardari’s mid-1990s spending spree that involved millions of dollars for jewelry. 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 removal of resistant intermediaries.

As a result of the reports, Citibank ran into further private-banking trouble in Pakistan. Zardari’s financial history was one case study in a 1999 US Senate report on various vulnerabilities in banking procedures.

Second imprisonment and conviction

In March 1997, he 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 has handed over documents to Pakistani authorities relating to money laundering. The Swiss government had also indicted him for money laundering. At the same time in a separate case, he and 18 others were also 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 collection of customs duties. The couple received $8.6 million fines. Both were also sentenced five years imprisonment but Bhutto could not be extradited back to Pakistan from her self-imposed exile. He was already jailed awaiting trial on separate charges. The evidence used against them was gathered by Swiss investigators and the Pakistani Bureau of Accountability.

In May 1999, he was hospitalized after an alleged attempted suicide. He claimed he suffered an attempted murder by police.

In August 2003, a Swiss judge charged Bhutto and Zardari for money laundering and sentenced them 6-month imprisonments and fined $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 allegations relating to corruption.

In November 2004, he was released on bail by court order. However, a month later he was again unexpectedly arrested for failing to show up for a hearing on a murder case in Islamabad. He was moved to 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 overseas in Dubai.

Exile and legal problems

He left to see Bhutto in Dubai and returned to Lahore in April 2005. Police prevented him from holding rallies by escorting him from the airport to his home. He criticized Musharraf’s government but rumors of reconciliation between Musharraf and the PPP grew. He went back to Dubai in May 2005.

In June 2005, he suffered a heart attack and was a treated in 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 and the court issued an arrest warrant. His lawyers stated he could not come because he was recovering from 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 declared in September 2007 her upcoming return to Pakistan, he 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 in her return and had stayed behind in Dubai with his daughters. Bhutto called for the removal of the chief investigator of the attacks because she claimed the chief investigator had been involved in Zardari’s alleged prison torture in 1999.

In November 2007, Musharraf installed emergency rule for six weeks, under the pretense of rising Islamist militancy, a few days following Bhutto’s departure for Dubai to meet with Zardari. Immediately after the state of emergency, Bhutto returned to Pakistan while Zardari again stayed behind in Dubai. The emergency rule was initiated right before the Supreme Court of Pakistan began to start deliberations on the legality of Musharraf’s U.S.-backed proposal — National Reconciliation Ordinance — to drop corruption charges against Bhutto and Zardari in return for a joint Bhutto-Musharraf coalition to lead Pakistan. Bhutto and Zardari sympathized with Musharraf on his feud with the Supreme Court, but simultaneously criticized the imposition of martial law. Before the Supreme Court could issue a decision on the dismissal of corruption charges against Bhutto and Zardari, Musharraf replaced its members with his supporters.

In the midst of his exile, Zardari faced several different legal problems. In Pakistan, Musharraf gave amnesty to Zardari’s alleged offenses through the National Reconciliation Ordinance drafted in October 2007. However, the ordinance was up against mounting public pressure and an uncompromising judiciary. In addition the ordinance only dealt with charges up to 1999. This left open the possibility of investigations into alleged involvement of about $2 million in illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein under the oil-for-food program discovered in October 2005. If the ordinance was rescinded, he would have had to deal with charges relating to evading duties on an armored 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 case to be reopened in October 2007. In Spain, a criminal investigation was opened for money laundering for the oil-for-food program because of illicit profits through Spanish firms. In Britain, he was fighting a civil case against the Pakistani government for the profits of Surrey Palace through a liquidation sale. 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 Bhutto’s assassination.

Co-chairman of the PPP

Asif Ali Zardari

Bhutto’s assassination and succession

Zardari prevented Bhutto’s autopsy in accordance with Islamic principles. He and his son Bilawal attended her funeral which was held the next day. He rebuffed 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 declared Zardari as her successor for party leadership. However, Bilawal became Chairman of the PPP because Zardari favored Bilawal to represent Bhutto’s legacy in part to avoid division within the party due to his own unpopularity. He would act as co-chairman of the PPP for at least three years until Bilawal completed his studies overseas.

February parliamentary elections and coalition formation

He called for no delays to the January 8 parliamentary elections and for the participation of all opposition parties. Other major political parties quickly agreed to participate ending any chance of a boycott. However, the parliamentary elections were postponed six weeks to February 18 because of the turmoil after the assassination. In January 2008, he suggested that if his party wins a majority it may form a coalition with Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q). He and Sharif threatened national protests if attempted vote-rigging took place. 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 PML-N won the largest number of parliamentary seats in the February elections. After the elections, he and Sharif agreed to work together 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 Patterson, who pushed for a pact with Musharraf. To strengthen the new coalition, he reached out to Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the Baloch nationalists who had 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.

Coalition government

He and Sharif agreed in the 9 March 2008 agreement, known as the Murree declaration, for the restoration of the judges by 30 April 2008. The deadline was later extended to May 12. He and Sharif held unsuccessful talks at London in May. After the coalition failed to restore the judiciary, in mid-May PML-N withdrew from the government by 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 coalition government was successful in readmitting Pakistan 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 pushed back against impeachment calls because he claimed the coalition did not have the two-thirds majority in both legislative bodies — National Assmebly and Senate. He was unwilling to restore the judiciary as divisions in the coalition grew and popular sentiment shifted towards Sharif. The coalition criticized 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, he relented and the coalition agreed on proceeding full-swing towards Musharraf’s impeachment by drafting a charge-sheet against Musharraf. The coalition charged him for high treason in 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 in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On 18 August, Musharraf resigned in order to avoid impeachment. Although Zardari favored granting Musharraf immunity from prosecution, the coalition could not reach a united decision. The coalition also could not reach a united stance on the future of the judiciary.

Rise to Presidency

Elections were held within three weeks after the removal of Musharraf. He vowed to pursue the 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 President but his party did not show a certificate. He was endorsed by the PPP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for Presidency. The PML-N nominated former justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui and the PML-Q nominated Mushahid Hussain Sayed. He won a majority in the electoral college with 481 of the 702 votes.[election 1] He was elected President on 6 September 2008.[election 2]

President of Pakistan

First days

At the inauguration on 9 September 2008, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a guest of honor which was a signal for much closer cooperation between the two nations in addressing the tribal insurgency near the border. After the election, he promised to approve the constitutional provision that removed the President’s power to dismiss Parliament but public skepticism remained on whether he would actually carry out the 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 the September 20 Marriott Hotel bombing. A few days afterward, he went to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on his first overseas trip.

Zardari and Bush signed a secret deal in their September 2008 meeting that allowed drone attacks on prominent targets.

United Nations visit

From 23 September to 26 September 2008 he met with various foreign leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao. He suffered political embarrassment after causing controversy for flirting with Sarah Palin, a U.S. Vice Presidential candidate, with his tongue-in-cheek comments. Although at the United Nations General Assembly he publicly condemned U.S drone attacks in Pakistan, he had signed a secret deal when he met with senior American officials that arranged for coordination of Predator strikes and a jointly approved list of prominent targets.

Economic crises

From 14 October to 17 October 2008, he went to China to negotiate foreign aid as Pakistan faced prospects of defaulting on its payments. China refused to offer any aid commitments but instead promised to provide assistance in the development of two nuclear power plants and more future business investments.

After Saudi Arabia, Britain, China, United States, and the United Arab Emirates refused to offer offer any bailout, he officially asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance in solving balance of payments on 22 October.

He went to Saudi Arabia from 4 November to 6 November in hopes of obtaining financial aid and securing trade agreements. Leaked cables revealed increasingly strained relations between Zardari and the royalty, primarily because of Saudi distrust of Zardari and preference for Sharif. Weaker cooperation led to decreased oil subsidies in part of a broader Saudi policy of withholding monetary assistance.

In mid-November 2008, the Pakistani government officially sent a letter of intent to the IMF and he expected a $7.6 billion bailout for the foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan received a $7.6 billion loan over two years.

India relationship

In early October 2008, he received fierce domestic criticism for repeatedly calling Kashmiri nationalists in India “terrorists”. In mid-November 2008, he suggested Pakistan was ready for a no-first-use nuclear policy and called for closer economic ties.

Relationship between the two nations suffered after the late November 2008 Mumbai attacks. He initially denied any links between the Mumbai gunmen and Pakistan, but the government soon pursued military action against Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders in a December 7 raid. India cleared Zardari’s government of any direct involvement in the attacks but simultaneously demanded the extradition of 20 Pakistanis which it alleged took part in the attacks. Zardari offered to send the ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to assist in the investigation.

After Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s May 2009 re-election, Zardari congratulated him via phone.

Reinstatement of the judiciary

In February 2009, Zardari and the Musharraf-appointed Supreme Court attempted to disqualify Nawaz Sharif from contesting in any elections and tried to force Shahbaz Sharif to resign as Chief Minister of Punjab Province. Zardari dismissed the Punjab provincial government and only partially reinstated the judiciary by restoring 56 other judges deposed by Musharraf—but not their former leader, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. After Nawaz Sharif defied house arrest with massive crowds, the Sharif brothers vowed to converge with the Lawyers’ Movement in the “Long March”. Zardari’s government relented to popular pressure and Prime Minister Gillani promised to reinstate deposed Iftikhar Chaudhry by March 21st. Chaudry assumed office on 22 March and 10 other judges were reinstated on 16 March. Zardari’s month-long direct control of the Punjab also ended simultaneously on 30 March.

Hamid Karzai, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Zardari after the Afghanistan-U.S.-Pakistan trilateral meeting in May 2009

AfPak War

The government has had a longstanding conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Diplomatic relations with Hamid Karzai improved after Musharraf’s departure and Zardari’s rise to power. The Obama Administration’s AfPak policy through Richard Holbrooke reflected the unified approach the United States used in dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In his first visit to Afghanistan as President in early January 2009, Zardari promised a renewed relationship to improve cooperation. In February 2009, FATA’s provincial government officially declared Islamic law in Swat to achieve a cease-fire with northwestern tribes. Because the United States and Britain opposed the measure, Zardari did not sign the Swat ceasefire until April when domestic pressure from Parliament mounted significantly. In late March, Obama announced a development aid package of $7.5 billion over five years in return for cooperation in the AfPak conflict. In late April, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Zardari and promised $1 billion in four years. In May, Obama held a trilateral summit in Washington D.C with Karzai and Zardai where they discussed further cooperation.


Zardari with U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen in December 2009

In October 2009, he met with Pope Benedict XVI in order to discuss the situation of Pakistani Christians in context of blasphemy law.In 2009, he ceded several of his most important powers, including chairmanship of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal oversight agency to Prime Minister Gillani.

Following Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011, Obama called Zardari and collaborated on the events.

Personal life

Zardari and Benazir Bhutto had one son and two daughters. His son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, is the current Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. His older daughter, Bakhtawar, was born on 25 January 1990. His younger daughter, Asifa, was born on 2 February 1993. His sister, Faryal Talpur, became the guardian of his three children after Benazir Bhutto’s death.

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 him influence a verdict on one of his corruption trials. He now claims he is completely healthy with only high blood pressure and diabetes.

In 2005, a Pakistani daily reported he is the second richest man in Pakistan with an estimated net worth of US$1.8 billion. He amassed great wealth while his wife was Prime Minister. He was reported to have estates in Surrey, West End of London, Paris, Manhattan, and Dubai. In Britain, he used a common legal device — the purchase of property through nominees— with no family link to the Bhuttos. His Lahore home is referred to as Bilawal House II. His residence in Islamabad is called Zardari House.

Surrey Palace

He bought a 355-acre 20-bedroom luxury estate in Rockwood, Surrey in 1995 through a chain of firms, trusts, and offshore companies. He initially denied for eight years that he owned the property and no-one paid the bills for his work on the unoccupied mansion. Creditors forced a liquidation sale and the Pakistani government claimed proceeds because the home was bought with money through corruption. However, he stepped in to claim that he actually was the beneficial owner. As of November 2008, the proceeds were in a liquidator bank account while a civil case continues.

It includes two farms, lodgings, staff accommodation, and a basement under the imitation of a local pub. The front entrance to the house is covered in ivy and holly. There is a large parking area in front. The master bedroom ceiling is created to achieve an evening sky with stars in it.

He had sent large shipments from Karachi in the 1990s for the refurbishment of Surrey Place. He earlier had plans for a helipad, nine-hole golf course, and a polo pony paddock to be installed on the property.


  1. The electoral college is composed of the Senate, the National Assembly, and the four provincial assemblies. The parliamentary lower house National Assembly has 342 seats. The upper house Senate has 100 seats. The four provincial assemblies are Sindh, Punjab, North West Frontier and Balochistan. The assemblies have total of 1170 seats, but the number of electoral college votes is 702 since provincial assembly votes are counted on a proportional basis. A person needs to win 352 votes to win a majority.
  2. ^ The President serves for five years.


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