Three Blind Mice

Given that things go according to “plan”, Pakistan will be blessed with three different PMs in three months after Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s resignation in June. Ch Shujaat Hussain is slated to be PM for July and most of August, by end of August Shaukat Aziz should have taken over i.e. if there is no slip between the cup and the lip. This must be a record even for Pakistan where a proliferation of PMs took office on a revolving-door basis in the 50s. The rumour mills working overtime predicting the imminent departure of Jamali were proven wrong about the supposed PM-in-waiting, Humayun Akhtar. He was used as the proverbial red herring, an elaborate deception plan to camouflage Pervez Musharraf’s first (and perhaps only) choice, Shaukat Aziz.

Ch Shujaat Hussain must not get comfortable with the PM’s chair and trappings thereof, those who selected him as the cover for Shaukat may not take too kindly to any inclination of holding onto the PM’s job. In the army we used to fire two rounds at the beginning of firing practice as “barrel warmers”, there were always some who hit anything but the target, those rounds were known as “butt warmers”. Chaudhry Sahib is a “butt warmer” for the PM’s seat in all senses of the word.

If Pervez Musharraf had declared martial law on Oct 17, 1999 as Mian Nawaz Sharif was led to believe he would, Shaukat Aziz would have likely been the PM. Given the abysmal state of the economy, a Cititbank-trained banker having the confidence of western economic managers would have been the ideal choice. Mian Sahib tried to pre-empt the supposed “military coup” on Oct 12, 1999 by trying a civilian coup of his own, a new experience for the Pakistan Army, while Pervez Musharraf was still in the air. Since his newly appointed COAS Gen Ziauddin failed confront the troops of 10 Corps leading the Army’s counter-coup at the gate of the PM’s house, Mian Sahib became history. To avoid the words “martial law”, Gen Pervez Musharraf took on the mantle of “Chief Executive” (CE) of the country in addition to remaining COAS Pakistan Army, the real source of his authority. Flown in from New York as Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz was clearly the Senior Minister. On ushering in his version of democracy in 2002, Pervez Musharraf relinquished his CE hat, giving way to an elected PM. Because of international sensitiveness of a lack of democracy in Pakistan, the compromise was to have a politician rather than a technocrat as PM. Shaukat Aziz thereby got jilted at the PM’s altar. Like a good technocrat he continued to serve the political PM and the country without any sign of disappointment or recrimination, his patience has nearly paid off, third time lucky!

Military men are not comfortable with politicians, every soldier seems to believe he can be a consummate politician but this is a fantasy. Col Otto Von Skorzeny, Germany’s “Commando Extraordinary”, the man who rescued Mussolini and thus ensured Italy remained on the side of the Axis throughout World War 2, used to say “politics is the soldier’s curse”. As the politician in uniform Ziaul Haq was a master practitioner of the art thereof. Pervez Musharraf is too much of a soldier, he could never be a politician in a thousand years. While Pervez Musharraf has to co-exist with politicians, their loyalty is as feeble as their conscience as the 190 votes in the National Assembly for his anointed PM has shown. Despite the stability of the present economic situation, the President is smart enough to be cognizant of the fact that “trickle down economics” requires time to trickle down to the population. Deteriorating law and order situation aside, many other issues that the President had hoped would be tackled by a political PM remain outstanding, among them Kalabagh Dam, Hudood Ordinance, uniform issue etc. Result-oriented in keeping with normal military mindset Pervez Musharraf seems to have become quietly impatient with a politician PM as opposed to a technocrat PM. Having promised to take off his uniform, Musharraf realizes that in the present geo-political and domestic circumstances, Pakistan could well get embroiled in a Catch-22 crisis, would he continue to have the power to act as referee if he doffs his uniform?

In keeping with his personality and integrity Zafarullah Khan Jamali served Musharraf with devotion and loyalty. Contrary to public perception of his easygoing style he is also a workaholic but because he was virtually paralyzed for power, it is rather unfair to evaluate his performance, “where’s the beef?” The time and effort keeping the politician-aspirant PMs in the cabinet in line for the last 18 months cut into his performance. Only when the President started to distance himself (37 days of hell according to Jamali) that he started to feel the heat. He was lucky to have walked away with both honour and dignity intact, his first speech in Parliament as a former PM was perhaps his best on record. Humayun Akhtar was brilliantly used by the President as an unknowing decoy, as the DISCARDING SABOT in APDSFS (T) ARMOUR PIERCING DISCARDING SABOT FIN STABILIZED (TANK) ammunition, the real projectile Shaukat Aziz emerged after Humayun Akhtar was discarded like the “sobots”.

Shaukat’s strong suit, other than his long meritorious Citibank career (and an uncanny luck of being at the right place at the right time) is that he does not believe in confrontation, he will gladly turn the other cheek. With the World Economic Forum at Davos in appropriate measure, other than Ms Benazir Bhutto, I have not seen any Pakistani who has more name recognition and easy familiarity with world leaders. This man is generally popular among the foreign elite but he stands to be assailed on the “American connection” issue, people will talk darkly of his being part of the conspiracy to implement the US “nuclear rollback” plan about Pakistan, that is very untrue. The unkindest cut of all was to label him a Qadiani in keeping with the President’s other close associates, he is certainly not! In Pakistan’s economic circumstances in 1999 his economic initiatives had to be macro rather than micro-oriented, but it is totally unfair to call into question his patriotism and integrity, and for that matter his propriety about state secrets. Unfortunately in Pakistan, merit is usually a disqualifier. If the transition had been immediate without a time lag “the spoilers” would not get a chance to work overtime. His performance as a hands-on and capable PM will depend upon four major factors, viz (1) giving him (mostly) the cabinet of his choice (2) curbing in of the many aspirant PMs in his cabinet (3) more powers allowed to him as PM than was to poor Jamali and (4) economic salvation of the masses by ensuring “trickle-down” economics does trickle down. The acid test of Shaukat’s sincere intention will be seen from whether he chooses Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as the Finance Minister to succeed him, the crucial necessity for an economic-sensitive country for prosperity is a person capable of effecting real change to the economy, Hafeez Sheikh’s success will be Shaukat’s success as PM, Shaukat’s success will be that of Pakistan as a nation.

This is not a parliamentary democracy but a Presidential system masquerading as one. Pakistan’s circumstances and Musharraf’s personality both militate against the Parliamentary process. A collegial leader he may be, by nature the President is used to exercising outright authority and is incapable of sharing leadership at the helm of affairs with anyone. He may have decentralized command successfully in his military career but he knows that in the end the buck stops with him! In the next few months he will have to contend with the “Muhajir” factor in the upper reaches of the military, indeed his regime. This will get critical attention in the appointment of a new VCOAS (or COAS if he takes off his uniform). Whether it be a Presidential form of democracy or a Parliamentary one, at the end of the day the state of the common man and the change in his lot for the better will be the acid test of the new PM’s performance. Unless the President sheds some of the powers he wanted to in 2002 but could not, successive PMs will remain virtually blind with only partial powers, evoking memories of the nursery rhyme, “three blind mice, see how they run!”.