The recent spectacle in NA-120 is instructive for several reasons. It demonstrated that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) remains entrenched in the electorate despite being buffeting by the court. It also put a bitterly polarized constituency on display, and the credit for that goes to the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). News channels showed impassioned voters rabidly arguing for their favoured parties without referring to concrete reasons or rationale. It was a ringing confirmation that our voter remains personality driven, persuaded by superficial factors. He remains inert to the ideological moorings of any of the parties. We can argue endlessly about the people’s verdict and whether or not it was a loud endorsement of Nawaz Sharif. What we know for sure is that the candidates, who came in third and fourth, winning around 11% of the votes, belonged to the extreme right. One was backed by Hafiz Saeed while the other openly lauded Qadri for assassinating Taseer in his campaign posters. These two were either propped up to chip away at the votes of PML-N or PTI or the extreme right was simply testing waters. In either case, the parties thankfully remained on the fringes failing to appreciably change the game despite the involvement of some firebrand clerics. Most importantly, the elections laid to rest any hopes of the once mighty Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coming back to life. Battered and mutilated, PPP now walks the gait of a zombie with rural Sindh as its last bastion. Most importantly, the elections laid to rest any hopes of the once mighty Pakistan Peoples Party coming back to lifeAsif Zardari has pretty much single-handedly overseen one of the most tragic falls in modern political history. He can ride the most violent of storms, we thought — and he did. Pakistanis soaked up his aura of invincibility, hopefully more out of fascination than admiration. The media heaped awe on the uncrowned political oracle. Analysts unabashedly lavished praise on his mythical abilities, his flair for conjuring rabbits out of thin air, his panache for stitching opposites together. The evidence cited is his longevity at the perch despite gale force winds, judicial thunder and media lightening.To be fair, he indeed survived a veritable buffet of crises. From Memogate to the judicial rubbishing of the NRO to the disqualification of his prime minister, a public sector eyeballing bankruptcy, the crash of governance in Sindh, Zardari attracted scandals like Don Juan did nymphets. Yet he completed his presidential term of five years and jail term of more than a decade with poise.He squeezed through dozens of NAB cases and the last NAB case was dislodged only a few weeks ago. Is he really the Godfather of wile, the Moriarty of politics? Perverted wisdom concedes him pats on the back for navigating his ship with great skill. The question is, how and at what cost to Pakistan? Is mere survival a praiseworthy end, the fallout notwithstanding?More than any latent talent, his real benefactors have been circumstances. Astriking confluence of events strait-jacketing the very forces that have long hewn the course for Pakistan. Numerous factors helped Zardari survive the onslaughts from the judiciary, the media and unprecedented mismanagement. Foremost was General Kayani’s aversion to disrupting the democratic process though not necessarily out of any love for democracy. Pervez Musharraf’s disastrous fling as president, the Kargil fiasco and Osama’s discovery in military’s own backyard were like jabs smack in the face, leaving the establishment with a swollen nose. This effectively forced it to take a back seat, convalesce in the shadows and rebuild. The judiciary, bent on claiming space in the national discourse, had dampened the establishment’s messianic fervor further. In addition, the military was stretched thin with its occupation on both the eastern and western fronts. Zardari had, therefore, little to worry about and could focus all his guile on neutering the rest. The West happily threw its weight behind the elected civilian government. Not to forget Zardari’s flair for in keeping his coalition partners satiated and summoning political support at will.Wide-eyed appreciation of Zardari’s so called Houdini acts blinds us to the monumental unravelling of governance on his watch. What about the toll his survival instincts have taken on Pakistan? The question has to be eyeballed squarely to make a rational, dispassionate assessment. The truth is Karachi drowned in blood and continues to sink in a bog of incompetency, greed and indifference of frightening proportions. The economy cracked open as the government lived off borrowed money. Public sector enterprises like PIA, Pakistan Steel and Pakistan Railways caved in under the weight of corruption and mismanagement. Compounding national misery was the unprecedented power crisis that shut down hundreds of industrial units, rendering thousands jobless. The crowning embarrassment was the disqualification of Prime Minister Gillani who went down fighting gallantly, protecting the loot of his president. The reign of misfortune continues. Rains wreaked havoc in Karachi recently, another sad testimony to more than a decade of apathy and criminal negligence.Zardari is still there having successfully ridden the worst of storms. Our tendency to see Zardari’s dogged survival in isolation blinds us to the governance crash he presides over. It is obvious that he owes his longevity to factors other than any innate political brilliance. Polls increasingly testify to an astonishing loss of popular support for PPP, the recent NA-120 contest being a slap on PPP’s face. Bilawal is but an appendage, a pawn, the progeny of Benazir to give a humane face to the party. PPP survived Bhutto’s hanging. It survived Benazir’s assassination. It survived Zia’s brutal martial law. PPP did not survive Zardari. Imploding, bleeding loyalists and withering at the altar of Zardari’s whimsy and cronyism, the party’s fall makes for an epic story. Zardari deprived Pakistan of the Left, so necessary to balance the raging Right. He survives for sure but is irrelevant to Pakistan. The myth of Zardari stands busted. The writer has years of experience with both corporate and public sectors. He moonlights as a journalist Published in Daily Times, September 24th 2017.