ISLAMABAD - Former President Asif Ali Zardari – who turned 61 yesterday – is slowly entering the retirement phase as he gradually passes party powers to his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

For the last few months Bilawal has been taking important decisions in the Pakistan People’s Party while his father – in an apparent exile – is happy not to use his veto.

The PPP insisted this week that the removal of Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had nothing to do with the senior Zardari as it was decided by Bilawal as the PPP chief.

Born on 26 July in 1955, Zardari is also believed to have allowed Bilawal to reorganise the party according to his own convenience and preferences with a blend of experience and youth.

A senior PPP leader told The Nation, Zardari was content with his role as mentor and would prefer to go into a shell slowly as Bilawal matures as the party leader. “He has no lust for power. He wants Bilawal to lead with full authority and himself remain in an advisory role. He is always ready to step in when required as Bilawal can’t match his experience,” he added.

Zardari served as the 11th President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013 – the peak of his political career. He is still the chief of the PPP Parliamentarians – that has been contesting the elections for the PPP since 2002.

He rose to prominence after his marriage to the late 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.

On Bhutto’s re-elections in 1993, Zardari served as Federal Investment Minister and Chairperson Pakistan Environmental Protection Council. Following increasing tensions between Bhutto’s brother Murtaza Bhutto and Zardari, Murtaza Bhutto was killed in a police encounter in Karachi on September 20, 1996. Bhutto's government was dismissed a month later by then President Farooq Leghari, while Zardari was arrested and indicted for Murtaza Bhutto'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 December 27, 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 September 6, 2008. He was acquitted of various criminal charges the same year.

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 September 8, 2013. The Zardari-led PPP continues to form the provincial government in Sindh.

Zardari is said to have a belief in occult and superstitions. Reports said a black goat was slaughtered almost daily to ward off the 'evil eye’ and protect Zardari from ‘black magic.’

Zardari – believed to be the second richest man in Pakistan with an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion – left Pakistan after completing his term in the presidency and his party has since been claiming, “he will return soon.”

Senior PPP leader Rehman Malik said Zardari wanted to give time to Bilawal and was not reluctant to pass on the authority to the younger generation.

“For us both Zardari and Bilawal are the top leaders. They take decisions in consultation. Zardari wants Bilawal to lead the party with authority,” he maintained.

Zardari’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said Zardari enjoyed loads of respect among the PPP leaders and workers.

“They (Zardari and Bilawal) are working as chairman and the co-chairman. There are no differences on leadership,” he remarked.

The PPP celebrated Zardari’s 61st birthday yesterday across the country while he stayed abroad. The PPP Women Wing Islamabad celebrated his birthday here. Addressing the occasion former member Punjab Assembly Nargis Faiz Malik said that Zardari restored constitution of Pakistan and empowered parliament thus completing mission of Benazir Bhutto.

“He also gave identity to Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” she said adding the PPP was united under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Shamim Aijaz, Zubaida Rao, Gulzari Begum, Pukhraj Begum, Hasina Bano, Hasina Qadir, Surayya Zakir, Shazia Khan, Fatima Gilani, Safia Iqbal, Shahnaz Durrani, Khadija Bibi, Shaheen Akhtar and other women attended the occasion.

The gathering reposed full confidence in the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. 

Meanwhile, Zardari took notice of killing of two army personnel in Karachi yesterday and instructed the PPP-led Sindh government to immediately arrest the culprits and bring them to book.

In a condolence message, he said terrorism will never be tolerated and will be dealt with iron hand.