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The sins of Jamali

July 01, 2004 10:43 IST

Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Pakistan's first Baloch prime minister, resigned on June 26, and designated Chaudhry Shujjat Hussain, leader of the Pervez Musharraf-controlled Pakistan Muslim League, as his interim successor.

It was indicated that Shujjat himself would ultimately hand over to Shaukat Aziz, allegedly a US citizen of Pakistani origin, who was the finance minister in Jamali's cabinet, after he got himself elected a member of the national assembly, the lower house of Pakistan's parliament. At present, Aziz is a member of the senate, the upper house. Under the Pakistan constitution, only a member of the national assembly can be prime minister.

The announcements regarding Jamali's exit and Aziz's impending elevation as prime minister came after Jamali met the military dictator. For over a month now, there has been widespread speculation in Pakistan about Jamali's likely exit because of Musharraf's alleged displeasure over his perceived lack-lustre performance as prime minister. Jamali was elevated to this office by Musharraf after the highly controversial general election of October 2002.

After the election, Shujjat Hussain was elected by the PML (the PML Qaid-e-Azam as it was known, to distinguish it from Nawaz Sharif's party by the same name) as leader of the parliamentary party. Generally, in Pakistan, as it was in India till recently, the tradition had been that the parliamentary leader of the party -- which has an absolute majority or the largest number of seats if it is part of a coalition -- became the prime minister.

To the surprise of many, Shujjat Hussain did an act of self-abnegation and designated Jamali to be the prime minister and rallied the support of other members of the coalition to his candidature. Even though Shujjat, a Punjabi, gave the impression that Jamali's nomination was his decision in order to enable a minority Baloch to hold this high office, nobody accepted his explanation. It was widely believed that it was Musharraf who ruled out Shujjat taking over as the prime minister and directed that Jamali should be chosen by the PML for this post.

Well-known Pakistani sources cited the following reasons for Musharraf's decision:

  • Jamali's well-known proximity to the Americans in general and to the Central Intelligence Agency in particular right from the days of the anti-Soviet Afghan war of the 1980s.
  • His image as a pliable leader, who would let Musharraf continue to wield the reins of power and would not try to assert himself so long as he enjoyed the perks of office.
  • His belonging to the Baloch community, which is again in a state of political ferment and Musharraf's expectation that he would calm down his community.
  • His perceived acceptability to the six-party religious coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, many of whose leaders held Jamali in some esteem despite his proximity to the Americans.
  • Musharraf's hopes that with his contacts in the MMA he would be able to weaken their opposition to his continuing as chief of the army staff.
Musharraf's expectations from Jamali on the question of his continuing as army chief were belied. Jamali could not succeed in making the MMA drop its opposition to his continuing as army chief. Ultimately, faced with an embarrassing constitutional deadlock which lasted several months because of the MMA's refusal to support the incorporation of the various constitutional changes introduced by Musharraf through executive orders before the elections into the constitution through an Act of Parliament, Musharraf had to give an assurance that he would resign from the office of army chief by the end of 2004. Only then, he could secure the MMA's support for the constitutional amendments which have, inter alia, restored the presidential powers of dismissal of the elected prime minister and dissolution of the national assembly, which the late Zia-ul Haq had arrogated to himself and which Nawaz Sharif had got abolished when he came to the office of prime minister for a second time in 1997.

Since the beginning of this year, there were indications that Musharraf was preparing the ground to wriggle out of his commitment to resign as army chief by the end of this year on the ground that the situation presently prevailing in the country due to its role as the frontline ally of the US in the war against terrorism demanded his continuation as the army chief. He got the idea of his continuing on the post in the 'supreme national interest' (a favourite phrase of his) floated by some ministers of Jamali's cabinet.

It was widely believed that Musharraf wanted that the suggestion for his continuance as chief of army staff should come from Jamali and his cabinet in the form of an unanimous resolution requesting him to do so and that Jamali should either persuade the MMA to support this or, failing to do so, engineer a split in the MMA in order to get the required number of votes in parliament for the constitutional amendment to enable him to continue in the post while holding office as president.

Jamali's attitude on this was non-committal. He indicated on more than one occasion that while he would not take the initiative in preparing the ground for Musharraf's continuance, he would support whatever decision Musharraf took in the matter in the national interest and work for its implementation. It was Musharraf's unhappiness over what he perceived as the ambivalent attitude of Jamali in this matter which initially caused his disenchantment with Jamali.

An aggravating factor was Jamali's failure (in Musharraf's eyes) to vigorously explain to the people and to support in public the operations launched by the army in the South Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas -- FATA -- in its hunt, under US pressure, for the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The operations have caused considerable resentment not only among the tribals, but also in the lower and middle ranks of the army and have been bitterly opposed by the religious parties.

Jamali, who has many friends in the tribal communities of Balochistan, the North-West Frontier Province and FATA, adopted an ambivalent attitude on this too. His stance was: Musharraf and the army know best. If they feel the operations are necessary, they must have valid grounds. The people should support them. He was avoiding making a categorical statement that he himself was convinced that the operations were necessary and hence should be supported by the people.

Since the middle of last year, Jamali showed signs of unhappiness over what he perceived as his increasing marginalisation by Musharraf and by the prominence given to Shaukat Aziz. Before Musharraf's visit to Camp David in the US in June 2003 for talks with President Bush, there were indications of growing US concerns over the rogue proliferation activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, and his cronies in Pakistan's nuclear and missile establishment and the army.

In order to divert suspicion from himself and the army, Musharraf ordered Shaukat Aziz to inspect the security and accounting procedures at the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant and took Aziz along with him to the US to reassure the US that everything was in order in the nuclear establishment.

Before this, no civilian political leader of Pakistan had ever been allowed by the army to visit any of its nuclear and missile establishments. Jamali was put in a highly embarrassing position when questions were raised as to why this task of seeming civilian supervision over the nuclear and missile establishment was given to Aziz and not to him (Jamali) and why Aziz reported his findings directly to Musharraf and not through Jamali.

Subsequently, when the interception of a ship carrying centrifuges from Malaysia to Libya off the Italian coast by the US and UK navies in October 2003 forced Musharraf to take Qadeer Khan and other scientists into informal custody and interrogatre them, Musharraf made Shaukat Aziz in charge of the co-ordination of the investigation and the interrogation and kept Jamali totally out of the picture.

Peeved over this, Jamali again adopted an ambivalent stand when the interrogation of A Q Khan created a public furore in Pakistan. His stand once again was: Musharraf knows best. If he had taken this action there must be valid grounds for it in the national interest.

Since the middle of last month, there was speculation in Pakistan that Musharraf's disenchantment with Jamali was complete and that he would be eased out before Musharraf embarked on a foreign tour on July 3. Jamali continued denying that his exit was imminent, but ultimately succumbed to Musharraf's pressure to quit on June 26.

Shaukat Aziz, the ultimate beneficiary of the 'palace intrigues' as sections of the Pakistani media have dubbed the happenings, enjoys the trust of the USA and Saudi Arabia, where he had lived before and worked for Citibank. He is a close personal friend of a brother of Musharraf who lives in the US. It was he who had suggested his induction into the cabinet as finance minister after Musharraf seized power in October 1999. His induction was also strongly backed by the Saudi ruling family.

But he is likely to be a red rag to the fundamentalist bull in Pakistan. Many religious clerics distrust him because they look upon him as the USA's cat's paw. Moreover, since he was inducted as finance minister after the coup of October 1999, there have off and on been allegations that he comes from a family of Ahmediyas, the ultimate sin in the eyes of the fundamentalists.

Would such a man be accepted by the fundamentalists of the madrassas and the army? If they don't, what impact this would have on internal political stability?

If Musharraf had wanted, he could have got Shaukat Aziz elected overnight as a member of the national assembly and made him prime minister. He has not done so apparently because he wants the ground prepared for his continuing as army chief. This would require parliamentary endorsement. Parliamentary endorsement would be feasible only if the MMA's solidarity on this issue is broken and large-scale defections caused in its parliamentary ranks.

These are political games, which Shaukat Aziz, being essentially a technocrat with no skills of political manipulation, may not be able to perform. Hence, the importance of the role of Shujjat Hussain, who as a trusted aide of Nawaz and as a member of his cabinet, had acquired a mastery of the required skills. Would he be prepared to exercise them for the benefit of Musharraf if a collateral beneficiary would be Shaukat Aziz and not he himself?

Musharraf knows that his continued survival in power depends on the continued support of the US and senior army officers and on his continued ability to divide and dominate the religious elements. He has no reason to fear the loss of the US support. In the present army hierarchy, only Mohammad Yusuf Khan, the vice-chief of the army staff, and General Mohammad Aziz Khan, chairman, joint chiefs of the staff committee, owed their rise in their career beyond the rank of major general to the pre-1999 political dispensation and not to Musharraf. Once they retire in October next, all the other lieutenant generals would be officers who crossed the rank of major general due to Musharraf's benediction.

Hence, in his calculation, he has no reason to fear any threat to his position from them. Any threat to him, open or conspiratorial, would come from officers of the rank of brigadiers and below, amongst whom fundamentalist and anti-US feelings are strong. To keep them under effective surveillance and to nip any trouble in the bud, he needs to continue as army chief. So he feels. So, he will do unless the US exercises pressure on him to discard the army chief hat. It is unlikely to do so. The US has never shown any political wisdom in the past. It is unlikely to do so in future.

It is often said that Pakistan is ruled by a mix of Allah, the Army and the Americans. But the reality is that Allah has not always been on the side of a military dictator. One saw it in the case of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul Haq. When past military dictators thought they had secured their position, Allah had an uncomfortable way of indicating they had not.

Would history repeat itself? Would it be 'Musharraf proposes, Allah disposes'?

B Raman