Abbaji's Direct Rule to the Soft Reign of Ammaji
M T Butt
July 11: Nawaz Sharif and his two tenures as prime minister were
dominated by one non-political personality who called all the
critical shots, his father: Abbaji. General Pervez Musharraf has
his own dominating family influence, his mother: Ammaji.
with Abbaji, who was consulted on all key State matters and whose
opinion and advice was the final decisive factor, Ammaji, or Begum
Zarrin Musharrafuddin, Barri Amma (Grand Mama) as she
is called in the family, has been given almost the same role.
drawing rooms keep discussing many juicy stories of who was using
the Ammaji route to get close to the military ruler, how old acquaintances
of the old lady are winding their way to the good books of Palloo,
the kid days nick name of General Musharraf.
instance, banker Shaukat Aziz was always a favorite of Ammaji,
years before he was destined to emerge on the Pakistani scene,
first as Finance Minister and in a few weeks as the Prime Minister.
“Aziz was always addressed by first son Bilal Musharraf
as ‘Uncle’ and I am witness to this,” a journalist
based on New York said.
has been an old friend of Naveed Musharraf, the cardiologist brother
of General Musharraf based in Chicago. He played a key role in
buying some prime property for Naveed. Of course that role was
part of making friends with important people in Pakistan, as he
was an international banker. His job description as top Citibank
executive handling money laundering included such high level contacts
with Generals and their families.
a sense Aziz was lucky. It is known to all that he had excellent
relations with both Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif and both
were, at some stage of their two governments, considering bringing
him in an important position in Pakistan. It was reported in the
last few months of the Nawaz Government that he could be inducted
at any time as Finance Minister. For Aziz luckily it did not happen
because that would have shut him out from Musharraf’s team,
at least until he could clear his name and restore his credibility.
Ammaji favorite is the Secretary of Information Anwar Mahmood
whose wife and the first mother have very close friendly ties.
These kitchen-bed room woman-to-woman talks between the two ladies
brought Mr Mahmood close to the General, although he was very
close to Mian Nawaz Sharif at one stage. It is thus no surprise
that Mr Mahmood enjoys more powers now than many ministers in
the cabinet, even his own Minister.
insiders know of the big battle fought recently inside the Ministry
of Information over who will head the State-controlled Pakistan
Television. Information Secretary Mahmood wanted to throw Akhtar
Waqar Azeem, a long time PTV staffer and professional, out of
PTV but it was not easy.
had a big fight and ultimately Mahmood and Akhtar were both called
to the Presidency to settle the issue. Ammaji weighed in for Mahmood
in a big way and Akhtar was thrown out of PTV,” a PTV source
then went on record to say that he was thrown out because he refused
to hand over PTV’s Channel-III to a favorite of Mr Mahmood,
Jabbar Thekedar (Contractor), an active media player on the European-US
scene for Asian satellite channels.
is one of the few bureaucrats to accompany General Musharraf on
his current Scandinavian and Central Asian tours.
has always been a working woman and was last employed by the International
Labor Organization (ILO). She was associated with ILO for 17 years
till a car accident on Sept 13, 1986 forced her to quit. The accident
rendered her bed-ridden for over half a year.
then retired and lives with Musharraf, the middle son who she
has been describing as naughty and not studious in his younger
years. “I forced him to join the Pakistan Army as he was
fond of sports and not studies,” she says.
most detailed recorded interview was in February 2003 when international
Magazine ‘Motherhood' correspondent Saadia Haseeb
talked to her in Rawalpindi. Meet “Badi Ammi” , the
cover page of the Magazine said. Of course “Badi”
was misspelled for “Barri” which means big or grand.
Badi means evil.
the cover story began with a solemn statement: “A hand that
rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. This is not
just an inspiring quote but also a very valid statement, which
holds absolutely true for Begum Zarrin Musharrafuddin.”
Seeking interviews with VIPs is always tough, Saadia Haseeb wrote
but added: “We found the path to the Army House in Rawalpindi
was surprisingly not difficult at all. Just a couple of phone
calls and a few days later, there we were sitting face to face
with the lady who molded the personality of our President General
How close is Ammaji’s relationship with Musharraf? ‘Motherhood’
answered the question: She takes breakfast with President Musharraf
and says goodbye to him when he leaves for office. “I see
him off to work without fail,” she says. “And after
office, he comes straight to me. He is very caring and very, very
the day she watches all TV channels and reads all newspapers and
when Musharraf returns, reports to him what negative stories were
published by which newspaper against him. She in a way acts as
his private eyes and ears on the media and her observations and
advice becomes the final word on how to deal with the rogue elements,
circles close to the Presidency say.
While Anwar Mahmood has established his ties with Ammaji, another
Information Minister high up to go through that route is Masoom
Abidi who is said to be a regular visitor to the Presidency, almost
twice a week. His strategy is to let everyone know that he was
regularly meeting Ammaji and was in her good books. That keeps
many prospective competitors away and many attacks are pre-empted.
Abidi was a nobody until a few years ago when he was pushed by
friends to become editor of a Lahore English newspaper. It was
the Sharif era and Abidi is said to have made millions first through
supporting Shahbaz Sharif and then Chief Minister Manzur Watoo,
using the newspaper. He even got famous for the headline: “Babri
Masjid killed” which was put out in his newspaper.
Anwar Mahmood introduced him to Ammaji and got him to interview
her for TV. Abidi asked an innocent question: “Can I call
you Ammaji.” “Why not” was the response and
thereafter his fortunes started changing. Abidi is now on a very
high package in Ministry of Information's Academy and may also
soon become its chief. He is well on his way to become the next
Information Secretary, should anything happen to Mr Anwar Mahmood.
The most high profile beneficiary of close ties with Ammaji is
Senator Mushahid Hussain who had long back reached her through
his mother-in-law, mother of wife Dushka Syed, a friend of Ammaji.
Mushahid was helped by Ammaji through the connection while he
was in Musharraf’s jail, his image and credibility was slowly
restored until he was back in the good books of the man who rules
from prison to a free man, to a member of the Kashmir Committee,
to freedom of movement to go abroad, to election as a Senator,
to top leader of King’s Party and then its Secretary General,
Mushahid has traveled a long way. Help on much of this path to
success was provided by the network working with Ammaji.
Just recently another of the Mushahid family members, young Fahd
Hussain of Geo TV, won enough credits with those who matter to
get an exclusive interview with General Musharraf. Geo TV has
many senior journalists and producers and it was Fahd Hussain
who got away with the scoop, thanks partly to the network.
first mom has given few interviews to the media but in some of
her comments she has thrown a bit of a light on the personality
of her son, now in charge of the country’s destiny. Those
comments, if put into the current perspective, would make him
responsible for much of what is going on today on the national
and international political scene.
example in her Motherhood Magazine interview, Ammaji
remembered her son “as a youth who was a leader among his
friends -- and at times a bit of a troublemaker. He used to be
the center of attention of his peers even at a very young age.
No mischief would take place before he arrived. He used to tell
everyone what to do." Old habits die hard.
was Musharraf’s nick name in his childhood? “It was
only for some time that he was called 'palloo' by his
family members but the term could not go along with him as he
grew up and was forgotten. It was my idea that Pervez should join
the army vis-à-vis his fondness for sports and his physical
appearance. During his career in the army, I had been praying
for his progress and promotion I wished he reaches the rank of
Chief of Army Staff. I never thought or dreamt that my son would
become the country's President. It is a gift from Almighty Allah
that he attained this status.”