Pak Perspective; change of guard in Islamabad

PAKISTAN'S checkered political history negotiated one more highly dramatic bend on Saturday last week when Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned from his post and nominated Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, to take over as the new chief executive of his country.

By A. Masroor

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Published: Mon 28 Jun 2004, 9:56 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:59 AM

He also announced that Shaukat Aziz who was his finance minister would be the senior minister in the new cabinet.

Shujaat is expected to be elected the leader of the house today (Monday). The new Prime Minister will remain the party chief as well and therefore, is most likely to abdicate most of his powers of chief executive to the senior minister. In fact, if one had listened carefully to Jamali's farewell speech, it was Shaukat who was to have become the Prime Minister as he was the first choice of President Musharraf. However, since the experiment of keeping the offices of the party and the government in two separate hands had seemingly failed and resulted in the ouster of Jamali, it was perhaps thought prudent to let Shaukat govern in the name of Shujaat with the latter providing the former full support with powers flowing from his party office as well as the government post.

Last year when the PML president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, was out in Europe on an extended tour for his medical check-up, Jamali had convened a couple of meetings of the ruling parliamentary party ostensibly to chalk out a plan to counter a highly successful anti-LFO campaign that launched by the opposition. Shujaat saw these initiatives of the former PM as moves to take over the party in his absence. One cannot say it with any degree of certainty whether Shujaat's reading of the situation was correct or it was all a misunderstanding on his part. However, the antics of information minister Sheikh Rashid must have reinforced the perceptions of Shujaat. Rashid's detractors say that it was he who was actually instrumental in creating misunderstandings between Shujaat and Jamali as he had wanted to replace Shujaat with Jamali as party chief and grab for himself the office of secretary general of the party. The situation was further confounded when reports started appearing in the media about the two, the the prime minister and his party chief, disagreeing vehemently on who should or should not be inducted in the cabinet in the next round of expansion, which, any way, has not taken place, even after 14 months since the proposal was first mooted.

Though the names of a number of high profile federal ministers and MNAs as alternative to Jamali had found mention in reports of his ouster, it was only Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar who appeared to have taken the matter seriously. And soon he was seen campaigning in the right quarters and canvassing the right people for support. And at one stage it appeared as if he had even obtained the blessings of Shujaat. There were others on the list as well like education minister Zobaida Jalal, privatisation minister Hafeez Sheikh, advisor to Punjab chief minister, Jehangir Tareen, and Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi himself. The name of Shaukat Aziz had dropped out of these reports in recent weeks after having remained on top for several days. However, the PML chief is reported to have told Musharraf that he would back any one the President would name for the job. And perhaps Shaukat is the President's choice and the new arrangement is only a stop-gap arrangement until Shaukat gets elected from a National Assembly seat after resigning his senate seat as under the constitution a member of the upper house cannot be elected the leader of the lower house.

It is the leader of the National Assembly who becomes the Prime Minister. It is, however, not very clear at this stage how long this interim arrangement would last. And what would be the guarantee that the two, the party chief and the PM when these two offices are once again separated, would not enter into yet another turf war. Many who claim to have insider information had said that as soon as the powers that be found a consensus candidate to replace Jamali it would be curtains for the PM. Most of the PML MNAs who had called on the President in his parliament chamber last week, however, are said to have voted in favour of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. These PML MNAs are said to have also told the President that they would like him (Musharraf) to take over the leadership of the party as well.

The fact that the President met these MNAs without either the party chief or the prime minister being present in these meetings speaks volumes of the changed equation in Pakistan. It seems that these two no more enjoyed the confidence of the President. The wasteful turf war that had been going on between the prime minister and the party chief from very early in the day seemed to have robbed them of their respective abilities to function properly in their respective jobs. And perhaps realising at last that the troika (the President, the Prime Minister and the Party Chief) was becoming increasingly counterproductive for both the party and the government, the President seemed to have decided to takeover the reins of the party directly in his hands. He is already calling the shots in respect of all areas of governance. What now appears to be an irrefutable fact is that General Musharraf in his typical derring-do style had taken up everything that came his way with regard to governance ostensibly in the supreme national interest. However, he perhaps knows that he cannot carry on like this indefinitely. He needed to find a way out. And this he seems to have found in Shujaat, the party chief functioning as the prime minister, in name only and Shaukat Aziz, the President's man of confidence functioning as operational PM.

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist and commentator.

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