Political musings: The kingmakers and their prime ministers

Published: March 11, 2016
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 PHOTO: APP/FILE

PHOTO: APP/FILE

Like many political parties formed during military regimes, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) also saw unprecedented ascendency in the power corridors for nearly a decade before its present days of twilight.

Soon after General (retd) Pervez Musharraf toppled the PML-N government in the 1999 military coup, a disgruntled group of the former ruling party emerged as the ‘likeminded’ faction. The group later turned into the PML-Q, then known as the ‘King’s party’.

Among its pioneers were Mian Azhar, Fakhar Imam, Abida Hussain, Ijazul Haq, Gohar Ayub and the Chaudharys of Gujrat, who later assumed the role of kingmakers for years to come. After the likeminded group turned into PML-Q, it was initially Mian Azhar who was elected as its president while Gohar Ayub was the party’s secretary general. Pervez Elahi, Saleem Saifullah, Ghaus Bakhsh Mahar and Jam Yousaf were elected presidents of Punjab, K-P (then known as NWFP), Sindh and Balochistan chapters of the party, respectively.

After the exit of Nawaz Sharif’s family from the country as a result of the covenant signed with the military regime in 2000, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain emerged as the principal protagonist in the political landscape. He was the apparent kingmaker from 2002-07, the period PML-Q was in power.

Shujaat assumed the office of PML-Q’s president after pulling the carpet from under the feet of Mian Azhar, who had lost the polls from two National assembly constituencies in the general elections held in October 2002. Aggrieved over the minimum qualification of graduation required to contest polls, Gohar Ayub had already resigned as the general secretary. Shujaat then made Mir Zafarullah Jamali the party’s general secretary and later the country’s prime minister.

Having little clout of his own and hailing from Balochistan, the smallest province in terms of population and number of seats in Parliament, there had always been an air of obscurity over the selection of Jamali as the prime minister following the 2002 elections. Shujaat also took over for a brief stint of 60 days as the prime minister after Jamali was asked to resign and Shaukat Aziz succeeded him for the rest of PML-Q’s tenure.

Though some of the leading names from the newly-formed party had melded into the background after being wiped out in the carefully orchestrated polls by the military regime, there were still several horses in the race to the top slot in the King’s party. Shujaat was among the key men in such appointments and all other major political events. In an interview with The Express Tribune, he shares the politicking prevalent in the power corridors at the time.

“Tariq Aziz and some people around the President wanted to make Humayun Akhtar the prime minister. Pervez Elahi (Shujaat’s cousin), however, was against that. He (Jamali) had only one vote of his own,” Shujaat recalls, narrating the events of the time when the military establishment was weighing its options for the top slot in the new political setup.

After serving for 30 years as a low-key bureaucrat, Tariq Aziz, a friend and college mate of Musharraf, rose to prominence when the general made him his principal secretary. Aziz and General Hamid Javaid, Musharraf’s Chief of Staff from September 2001 to December 2007, were among the key players in the Musharraf camp along with the military establishment, says Shujaat.

“This tussle (for the premiership) was ongoing. He (Jamali) used to come to our house every morning and evening. In fact, he used to live in the guest room of our house. I thought he would be a suitable person. Pervez had Humayun in mind, while I was into [giving the slot to] a smaller province. Also, we had no other suitable choice.” Shujaat maintains Musharraf had never met Jamali before he was publically nominated by Shujaat as the party’s candidate for the prime minister’s office.

Shujaat narrates some interesting events; how he, his cousin Chaudhary Pervez Elahi and brother Chaudhary Wajahat managed Jamali’s nomination amid all the bickering in the presidential office. “We consulted the President (for Jamali’s nomination). The President said I should talk to Farooq Leghari. I went straight to Leghari’s house and sent Pervez [Elahi] home. I told Pervez to call media persons at our house so that we could make an announcement for Jamali sahab’s nomination. After I returned home from my meeting with Farooq Leghari, rumours started to make the rounds that Tariq Aziz was creating hurdles, and that time was running out for us. Pervez and Wajahat told me, ‘Bhai jaan, be quick’. I told them to keep calm and let the media arrive. They held my arm and made me sit with Jamali in front of the media persons and I made the announcement: Jamali sahib would be our party’s candidate for prime minister.”

Minutes after the announcement was made, Shujaat started receiving phone calls from the presidency. “After 10-15 minutes, the phones started ringing. General Hamid Javed was the first to call. He said you should have waited for another day. Pervez and Wajahat had already told me earlier, ‘if we don’t do it today, it’ll never happen’. There were others in the race too. That’s how we made the announcement.”

Shujaat says General Hamid Javed was neutral since he had no candidate of his own. But Tariq Aziz was a staunch lobbyist of Humayun Akhtar. “Besides the usual military bureaucracy, the President’s military secretary and DG ISI were core decision makers. They also had their personal likes and dislikes,” says Shujaat.

Jamali served as the prime minister from November 21, 2002 till he was asked to resign on June 26, 2004. Shujaat claims Jamali’s differences with General (retd) Musharraf led to his resignation. “Jamali’s resignation was their (President’s) decision, but it was implemented through us.” After Jamali’s resignation, began another interesting era.

Shujaat had another agreement with the military establishment of the time. Under the new agreement, Shujaat became the prime minister for two months. During this period, Shaukat Aziz – who was a member of the Senate and also the finance minister – was elected to the National Assembly from Attock district, the constituency Shujaat’s niece had vacated.

“We had an agreement with them (military establishment). Shaukat Aziz was made the prime minister under this agreement,” Shujaat says without elaborating further.

After Shaukat Aziz’s election as the new prime minister, the third in less than two years, Musharraf brokered another agreement. This time it was Aziz and Shujaat: a power sharing formula. “Then there was another agreement. The President said Shaukat and I should bring things in writing. We both signed it in the presidency. [Under the agreement] Shaukat Aziz would only look after financial matters, while the government would be run under the party’s policy. I would run all the party affairs including the funds of lawmakers,” recalls Shujaat, sharing the key points of the agreement signed between the two. After both had signed it, they made General Hamid the custodian of this secret covenant.

NRO deal

Another important development of that era was the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that Musharraf promulgated in late 2007, paving the way for Pakistan Peoples Party’s chairperson Benazir Bhutto to return from self-exile.

Initially, Musharraf formed a committee comprising two members each from the PML-Q and PPP to deliberate on the NRO. Shujaat and Mushahid Hussain represented the PML-Q while Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf represented PPP. The committee had a few meetings and came up with a draft. They wanted to take all mainstream parties on board, an idea which the President’s camp did not fancy.

“We had three or four meetings. Recommendations came from both sides. We asked them (PPP) to either take the third term or get corruption cases absolved. We had differences with them at this point. Mushahid recommended the provision of a parliamentary ethics committee also be inserted. I also recommended introducing it as a bill in Parliament. Otherwise it would give us all a bad name as it would be considered a deal inked by just two parties. The presidency received reports of everything going on between us. They added two more members, Hamid Nasir Chattha from our side and Safdar Abbasi from the PPP.

“They asked us ‘add this, add that’. We were asked to visit Benazir in Dubai to make an announcement so that it could be given a political touch. A day before we were scheduled to fly to Dubai, the then ISI chief, General Kayani, got our meeting cancelled.”

All the while, the military establishment was in parallel contact with Benazir Bhutto. “When they saw we were showing some teeth, they sent us home. Kayani sahib and Musharraf sahib were in direct contact [with the PPP leadership]. We came to know about Musharraf’s meeting with Benazir through the media. They had prepared their own draft and showed it to us,” says Shujaat, claiming his party had reservations with the said draft and thus opposed it. But the President’s camp prevailed.

The NRO was promulgated on October 5, 2007, a day before General Musharraf headed into the presidential election. “Benazir said they would either field a candidate or walk out at the time of voting. Finally, Amin Fahim-led PPP staged a walkout to make the polling process smoother. This was done through an agreement and Musharraf was elected President (in uniform on October 6, 2007).”

Shujaat says it is true that Musharraf and Benazir had reached an understanding on a power sharing formula, but he believes the deal would not have worked out if Benazir was elected to the office of prime minister. When asked why he thought Benazir accepted the NRO, Shujaat says, “She could see herself coming to power by lifting the bar on a third term of premiership and all the cases were already being shelved.”

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