Zardari has wrought a miracle. His transition from prison to the highest office in the land is not entirely providential. It owes a lot to his own planning and subtle manoeuvring. His political career, almost non-descript was directly due to his spouse. Benazir gave him a ministerial portfolio of environment in her second term, but he was not given any role in the party - the mainstay of her power, and popularity. Zardari's, association during Benazir's two terms as prime minister were besmirched with rumours of his financial shenanigans, which earned him the notoriety of Mr10 percent. The institution of dozens of criminal cases since the interim government of Prime Minister Qureshi in 1996, including complicity in murder of Murtaza Bhutto, Justice Nazim Siddiqi of Sindh High Court among others took him to the prison, where he languished for about 10 years without a final verdict in any case. It speaks volumes of Zardari's resilience that all these years did not bend him, indeed might have given him extra strength and resolve now in evidence in abundance. Zardari ascent to power began ironically with the assassination of Benazir on December 27, 2007. He rose to the occasion and moulded the circumstances to catapult him to power with extraordinary finesse. He assumed the mantle of Benazir and through an alleged will of the late leader displayed his uncanny qualities to ensure smooth sailing. In accordance with the will, never made public, he "reluctantly" agreed to share the responsibilities with his son Bilawal as co-chairman of the Party and proceeded to pave the way for political ascendancy. His party-PPP rode on the emotional wave length, capitalised on the trauma of a distraught nation and finally became the majority party following February 18 elections; and entered the portals of power in Islamabad, after a decade of political Diaspora. Detractors of Zardari and the members of Bhutto clan led by the "talented cousin" of ZAB, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto the former Chief Minister of Sindh in a hard hitting statement accused Zardari of forgery stating that such a document didn't exist. Statements have also been attributed to close confidants of Benazir, like Naheed Khan and others casting doubts on the alleged political will of Benazir, passing the mantle of the leadership of PPP to Zardari. Whatever the worth and merit of these reports, the fact remains that Zardari demonstrated an iron will and a resolute determination, and it was in full display when he took on agonised and anguished Sindhi folk, raising slogans against the federation (Punjab) to protest the killing of their leader in Rawalpindi. Zardari displayed true qualities of a leader and effectively controlled the grief and nipped the evil of Pakistan Na Khapay Regardless of this episode, same analysts regard him "an epitome of Machiavelli's Prince." One assessment shared perhaps by majority of his critics encapsulated as follows: "Self interest and self-promotion are the two wheels that make the bandwagon roll and rolled it has for Zardari with a mind-boggling force and intensity in the past few months, ever since he favoured himself with donning the mantle of the mentor of the heir to the legacy of Benazir Bhutto - a king maker in the truest sense of words." The manner in which Zardari outwitted Nawaz Sharif and saved himself with some grace in an extremely awkward situation on going back on his words demonstrate his innate capacity to face up any dilemma. It is a different matter that the media accused guilty of deceit and guile. It is alleged that Zardari's eyes were focused on the presidency from day one and that explains why he kept the issue of premiership undecided until last day and finally ditched the heir apparent, the indomitable Makhdoom of Hala in favour of Makhdoom of Multan - Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. Had Fahim, the chosen successor and party's obvious choice been given the position, Zardari's prospects for presidency could have been unnecessarily complicated, as both offices could not have gone to the same province. Initially he fully masked his ambitious and in response to volley of media questions on the issue declined that he had any ambitious for the office warding off any rumours or speculations. Once Musharraf resigned on August 18, Zardari, as per his original plan delivered the masterstroke. Zardari as president has still to make his mark but his unconventional and impromptu style contradicts the classical pattern. He decided to invite Karzai - not a friendly soul to Pakistan - as a chief guest on the day of his inauguration as president. He also held a joint press conference, in which Karzai made some uncharitable even critical remarks about Pakistan's policy. Zardari's "private visit" to London was equally a departure from diplomatic practice and protocol. It became semi-official with 150 minutes talk with Gordon Brown, culminating in a joint statement. Some protocol infected diplomats are aghast at Zardari's wayward behaviour. Whatever the psychological profile of the president elect, the real test of his tact and intelligence would come during his forthcoming visit to UNGA and his meetings with Bush and other US administration officials. So far he has handled the issue of the US forces intrusion into Pakistan territory with caution and restraint and avoided any condemnation. However unless there is a manifest change in the US policy, he will come under strong pressure for a clear cut policy pronouncement. It is a very difficult phase of our bilateral relations with Washington and Zardari would need to employ all his talents he has at his command to convince Bush that his current policy serves neither and that Pakistan should not be pushed around anymore. Zardari, however, needs to be reminded that his capacity to come out unscathed in the constitutional brawl having somersaulted on his solemn commitment and much maligned reputations for double speak will not serve him well in the international arena. It may deliver him some short-term gain, but in the long run he will discover that honesty is the best policy. Let him not fail in this test, as otherwise he may prove too clever for his own good. The writer is a former ambassador