His four years as Pakistan’s high profile finance minister won him no political accolades. Everyone saw him as a competent technocrat performing well under military rule.
Shaukat Aziz has the backing of the establishment, he enjoys General Parvez Musharraf’s complete support, he enjoys the confidence of the international financial and donor community, he did turn around macro-economic indicators, he is personally honest, he has the support of the establishment’s party the PML(Q), he holds a Pakistani passport and his engagement with Pakistan’s power and reform scene goes back to the period of the Sharifs. Leading a team of Pakistani bankers working abroad Shaukat Aziz would engage with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on financial reforms. Shahbaz Sharif lobbied for Shaukat with his brother. He wanted him in the federal cabinet.
Musharraf did what Shahbaz had wanted. Even more. Now barring any major catastrophe, Shaukat should shortly be sworn in as Pakistan’s 23rd Prime Minister. He will be where many had predicted and he had aspired to be. But he will be a Prime Minister with a difference. He climbs into the Prime Ministerial slot without any political assets. He is neither Moeen Qureshi who was imported from Washington for a 90 day spin. Nor is he like Nawaz Sharif or Mohammad Khan Junejo, men with limited political constituencies, picked up for top slots by the establishment. He becomes Prime Minister through the constitutional election process. Yet by virtue of ready-made political constituencies Shaukat is rid! ing on derivative political capital. For now his only constituency is the business class. It is an important yet unreliable constituency. It opts for convenience not conviction and commitment.
As a planned 3-year term Prime Minister, a major turn around in Shaukat’s political credentials appears unlikely. The establishment’s plan for running national affairs greatly precludes this possibility. According to the plan, politics and governance will be divided. Shaukat’s job description will involve day-to-day running of the federal bureaucracy. He will have to oversee execution of policy more effectively. He will be the Chief Executive who will engage with the outside world as Pakistan’s official leader, second only to President. At home his influence in the party, even while in office, may remain restricted to what the PML president ‘desires.’
Given the political situation and the administrative set-ups in the provinces, Shaukat’s political and administrative influence is not likely to spread to the provinces. NWFP and Baluchistan are opposition and semi-Opposition governments. An MQM dominated Sindh set up will resist federal interference on substantive matters. In Punjab sits the future aspirant for the Prime Minister’s slot.
Meanwhile on the broader issues of the State including law enforcement, State’s ideological re-orientation, defense and foreign affairs, will be debated in the parliament and cabinet with major input from the establishment. Also a more active National Security Council may play a greater directional role in these areas. Institutions like NAB and the Federal Public Service Commission may likely remain under the establishment’s influence. Matters of institutional reforms will be jointly addressed by the President and the Prime Minister.
Furthermore Shaukat Aziz’s political mandate as Prime Minister will be curtailed.
According to the establishment’s plan the president of the Pakistan Muslim League, under its ‘guidance’ will handle the political affairs of the country. Foremost the PML president Chaudary Shujaat Hussain, an experienced and politically savvy politician will be attempting to turn PML an establishment-created ‘paper party’ into an authentic party. With development funds at his disposal and the President’s support the PML president will attempt to solidify PML constituency.
While both Shujaat and Shaukat are the establishment’s men, on the political front Shujaat the man with a political constituency, the PML president and the man with the purse strings of the development funds, will ostensibly be more relevant for the parliamentarians. No matter how talented a Shaukat Aziz-cabinet maybe, Shujaat in the PML presidential slot will remain a high profile political player in the establishment-created political landscape. He will also be engaged in political trouble-shooting on behalf of the Federation attempting to calm the anger of those nationalist leaders from Baluchistan and Sindh who are getting increasingly alienated from the Centre.
Shaukat the technocrat will be tasked to better manage governance. He will essentially stay away from politics and politicking. Interestingly the only other example of a civilian Prime Minister in recent years who did not hold the party president’s office was Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. He survived for under two years as Prime Minister. The establishment politely sent him packing given his weakness in ‘governing’ and growing tensions between him and the PML cabinet and parliamentarians.
Shaukat does not risk losing establishment’s support. Within the functional parameters granted to him by the establishment, he will perform with honesty and competence. Yet expansion of his political power base is not assured. His mandate is better management. The new troika ruling arrangement is does not anticipate Shaukat’s involvement in political constituencies. The troika arrangement essentially operational since the 2002 elections involves the COAS-President. He remains the fulcrum of State power. He remains occupied with the highly controversial re-engineering of Pakistan’s political landscape; a key pre-requisite Musharraf argues for sustainable political, economic and social progress of Pakistan. The two junior partners selected by the President in the troika arrangement are Chaudary Shujaat and Shaukat Aziz.
The controlled hence abnormal political process in Pakistan faces no immediate threat of disruption. It does however raise two critical questions. One, remaining with this largely establishment-controlled democracy can the 8-point agenda, that general Musharraf had articulated and the public had supported in October 1999, be implemented. Two, can the current dispensation produce new political forces which can erase existing public support for the PPP and PML(N) leadership.
While there are few who would disagree with the goals for Pakistan that general Musharraf spelt out in the August 16 television program Roo-Baroo, questions remain about the means being adopted to achieve those goals. Foremost is the question of ‘fair play’ in addressing political issues. Issues range from opting for a ‘quid-pro quo’ cabinet that hands out slots to even NAB-listed coalition partners, to the continued imprisonment of Asif Ali Zardari and the excessive punishment awarded to MNA Javed Hashmi. Similarly the decision to opt for selective accountability through NAB, for pro-MQM indulgence in Sindh and the denial to PPP their valid place in the politics of Sindh, raise questions of moral legitimacy. Other gathering political storms in any civil-military confrontation in Baluchista! n and in NWFP over the Jamaat-i-Islami’s support to al-Qaeda, are also worrying.
Chaudary Shujaat in his brief stint as a Prime Minister took the political route to addressing these issues. He held the first government-MMA meeting on Wana in which the MMA supported the government’s registration of foreigners, opened dialogue with the Baluch leaders, countered the Interior minister’s accusation against the JI as had the president done earlier, opened dialogue with PML(N) members and called for accountability of ministers and officials while they are in power.
Yet Shujaat has not resolved any of these critical issues. Numerous challenges will stare Shaukat Aziz in the face as he takes over as Prime Minister; cabinet formation, constructive engagement with the Opposition including the PPP leadership, providing PPP the slot of the Opposition Leader in the Senate, defusing political crisis in Baluchistan and through institutional means addressing their concerns, countering double standards over accountability and effectively communicating the compulsions of the anti-terrorism policy.
Whatever his narrowly defined mandate maybe, as the PML Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz will have to address these issues. The technocrat Prime Minister will have to enter the political fray, in partnership with his party president. Economic progress is crucial yet alone it does not bring success in governance or legitimacy to a political system. Governance is a multi-dimensional challenge. It flows from ‘fair-play’ in all spheres of governance and politics. Above all ‘fair play’ is the solid underpinning that gives sustainability and legitimacy to a system. For now that is missing.