Uneasy lies the head

As an important event, the Federal Budget has been overshadowed by rumours fast and furious that the Prime Minister’s crown on Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s head is wobbling precariously, his position being further undercut when PML President Ch Shujaat Hussain volunteered that there are about 50 potential PMs in the Federal Cabinet. Most political crisis in Pakistan take life with the motivated creation of a credibility gap (and widening thereof into mutual suspicion) between the Head of State and Head of Government. As matters stand today, and in the absence of an emphatic denial from Pervez Musharraf, Jamali’s exit is increasingly being proclaimed a fait accompli, even though Ch Shujaat and Pervez Elahi demonstrated a hand-holding photo-ops with the PM. This being Budget season, if something is likely to happen it may happen in July or later, certainly before the shuffling of the Army’s hierarchy in October. In the meantime Pakistan will continue to be subjected to (and buffeted by) rumours and speculation. What’s new?

Zafarullah Khan Jamali has not changed in the nearly half century that I have known him, he is not a dual (or triple) personality as almost all our (and one daresays all over the world) politicians are. Three or four years older in years, he was only one class (that being the average age of students for that class) ahead of us in Lawrence College, Ghoragali. Some older boys in public schools tend to be bullies, not so Jamali’s perennial sidekick Inayatullah Khan Niazi (Maj Gen, retired) and Jamali, “Jaw” and “Jabal” (alongwith other heroes of my schooldays, Jaffer Khan (Brig, retired) and Farouk Adam (Major, retired)) were among those older boys who stood up for the younger lot against the bullies, that Jamali still stands up for the poor and the impoverished four decades later is not surprising. Inculcating both decency and integrity, Zafarullah shares some of strong qualities of “the boss”, mainly (1) an abiding deep loyalty for his friends (2) a disarming lack of arrogance and (3) a unaffected natural style both for public and private viewing. More of a silent operator, rather than being boisterous, people tend to under-estimate him. This quiet manner fuels public perception of a staid, deliberate approach to work, he is in fact a committed workaholic, going about his business in a quiet methodical manner without creating waves. Not many people know that he gets into the files after “Fajr” prayers, working through breakfast till he is ready for office in the late morning, the bottom line is that he gets the job done without self-fanfare.

A gruff, stolid figure not given to histrionics, he is a populist without being demonstrative. In a country where late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto set his own political pace for populism by engaging in studied public histrionics, the comparison can be a problem. A patient man, beneath that amiable exterior Zafarullah has a steel-like personality that only reacts at a time and opportunity of his choosing, and when necessary. In the predator world of Baloch tribal culture where Marris, Mengals and Bugtis tend to throw their weight around, the Jamalis are basically survivors and Zafarullah Khan is the ultimate symbol. Despite ingrained loyalty to his friends and mentors he seldom compromises on professional competence, a crucial ingredient for good governance. With only that much actual power as afforded to him in basically a Presidential system masquerading as a Parliamentary one and a cabinet full of PM-hopefuls with their knives perennially out, government has not been functioning at the pace it should for good governance. That is hardly Jamali’s fault!

For any leader to be effective he must have his own team, chosen on merit and loyalty. For political purposes and particularly in third world democracies, the PM has to compromise and take for his team players that may not be his first, second or even last choice. However the inherent disloyalty in those who want to become PM themselves needs containing, the lack of submitting to one authority makes for a situation readymade for disaster. How can anyone function effectively when he (or she) knows that the number of his (or her) team are not fully committed to him (or her) policies, and that they are all out to let him (or her) down so as to advance their own candidacy? It is morally repugnant for PM-aspirants to sit in the Cabinet while not giving their loyalty to the PM, the 50-odd number given by Ch Shujaat reflects a widespread character flaw, how can anyone profess fealty to anyone while conspiring to take his (or her) job? Would the President tolerate anyone around him if he knows (or comes to know) that the person is not fully committed to him?

The President should read Homer’s Iliad (i.e. if he has not already read it or seen the recent movie “Troy”). Achilles was the greatest warrior among the Greeks, yet his mother often exhorted him not to engage King Priam’s son Hector in battle, to quote “Hector is beloved of the Gods, if you kill Hector, you will not survive”. To ensure immortality, given that his mother had dipped him in holy water, holding him by his heel, Achilles heel was the only vulnerable spot in his body. Frustrated with King Agememnon’s attitude Achilles avoided battle till one day Hector killed one of Achilles’ best friend, Patroclus. In an epic confrontation Achilles killed Hector and dragged his body behind his chariot. Later Hector’s brother Paris shot the arrow that hit Achilles in his heel and killed him. Insecurity is every leader’s Achilles heel, the motivated foster and exploit this insecurity assiduously. Someone is deliberately contriving a rift between the President and the PM to perpetuate his own nuisance value, so what’s new? As a mature thinking person the President would be well advised to find out motivation of the person trying to orchestrate the cleavage, his own crass ambitions and interest or that of the President?

Could it be that some contenders are part of the conspiracy? If Humayun Akhtar Khan, Shaukat Aziz and Zubaida Jalal are going to be puppets-on-a-string for a king/queen maker, I would be disappointed. Humayun is the hot favourite of the Chaudhrys, there is no doubt by that given his credentials and personality he is a good candidate, but a Punjabi PM replacing in midstream a Baloch may not be good for the Federation. Moreover he has a major Achilles Heel viz, he should be prepared for a thorough probe of where his father inherited his wealth. On the other hand Finance Minister Shaukat is a well-heeled former Citibank executive, as Finance Minister he has clout presently that he may not have as PM. Shaukat would be subject to his “private-banking” career cynosure that may be difficult to contain politically. As for Zubaida Jalal, are we really serious? For whatever reason, the “Education Ministry” is already immersed in controversy. Why not look at other dark horses if we have to have a technocrat as PM? Why not think about Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, or for that matter Mushahid Hussain, both clean of any controversy. Dr Hafeez Shaikh’s strong suit is the need of the times, the economy and his pragmatic hands-on approach to it. At first glance I thought Mushahid was a square peg in a round hole for the Secretary General PML’s job, on closer inspection it turns out that given the lack of organization and method in PML, the President made an inspired choice for a structured Mr Clean. Besides being exceedingly articulate, Mushahid has clear-cut views on foreign policy that reflect the views of the military hierarchy, a great asset in domestic, regional and international context. Even today either he or Shaukat Aziz should be in the Foreign Office slot, at least Pakistan’s position will be presented with knowledge and reason.

Jamali is a proud man and has reason to be proud, as an independent CM of Balochistan he proved to be an able administrator, as a PM he is in the Mohammad Khan Junejo-mould. Jamali is in a “revolving door” situation because he is not the dummy he was probably meant to be by those who supported the President’s choice of PM in late 2002. Zafarullah has reason to hold his head high, he has done well enough in the circumstances allowed to him, with the dignity and self-respect befitting his heritage.