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The Aziz Cabinet: All the King's Horses and Poor Jamali's Men

By M Afzal Khan

ISLAMABAD, Sept 2: So it is more of the same. Many were nursing the illusion that this time it may be different, not necessarily better or worse, but just different. Even Shaukat Aziz was hinting at a new look administration - competent, clean, honest and chosen on merit.

The team he will lead and which has been handpicked for him, is not only the same which Jamali and Shujaat were destined to live with, it may be more unwieldy this time.

Already 32, full ministers have been inducted and some more may be trickling in at a later stage. Then there is the inevitable prospect of an army of junior ministers waiting in the wings to be sworn-in within the next couple of days. Indications are that every minister will have at least one, if not more, minister of state.

The first purpose, of course, is to accommodate pressure groups within ruling coalition or the influential lobbies, which are pulling the strings from backstage. The second purpose is to cut the concerned minister to size under constant scrutiny. That is a sure-shot recipe of chaos.

Add to this the swarm of parliamentary secretaries, advisors and chairmen of standing committees, and you have a house suffocating-full.

The Hashmi episode had exposed Mr. Shaukat Aziz’s hapless status. Despite his innate decency, resilience and civility, he was unable to prevent something that tainted the process of his election and tarnished his image. One of the characters in that event that posed to represent Mr. Aziz in the unsavory exercise of opposing the production order for Hashmi has even been rewarded with a ministerial post.

The cabinet formation was being dubbed as a major test of the limits and parameters within which the new Prime Minister would be allowed to operate. There was some intense lobbying and the list was shuffled and reshuffled many times before the final announcement.

Shaukat has fared no better than Jamali. There is hardly anybody in the new cabinet who could be considered Mr. Aziz’s choice. Everybody is somebody else’s representative. The next battle is for portfolios, and there is little hope of any major change on this count either.

As a successful banker, Mr. Aziz is known for being very meticulous in hunting talent. This time around, he has gotten ready-made stuff, which he may or may not like. His skill to gel a cohesive and coherent team, owing allegiance to him, would be severely tested.

Shaukat’s close friends say the Prime Minister may have a free hand in the selection of ministers of state. But names appearing in the media tell another story. Those who insist that he will be more of a glorified finance minister than a real prime minister, must have been reinforced in that view.

It is thus a safe bet that he may be able to exercise his choice in the finance ministry without outside interference. He is reportedly intent on keeping the portfolio to himself and name an advisor to run the ministry, probably a repeat of VA Jaffery syndrome. Among the likely names, State Bank Governor Dr Ishrat Hussain seems to be the best possible candidate.

On paper it is a cabinet of expedience. The pressure groups like MQM and Patriots now look more entrenched than ever. They not only have been able to maintain their previous strength in the cabinet, but have been given one more minister each. They also hope to have ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries as well.

Pir Pagara, who made a lot of noise against the PML chief and withdrew his Functional League from the unified PML, accusing him of establishing the rule of the Jatts, has finally extracted the price and got Razzaq Thaheem in the cabinet.

Moreover Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has been able to address the long-standing grievance of his party’s MPs that they have been ignored in order to appease smaller groups. Most of the 12 new ministers belong to the dominant party in the coalition. Amanullah Khan Jadoon, Tahir Iqbal and Mushtaq Cheema are his loyalists. Jadoon’s choice ensures representation of Hazara division and rewards a seasoned political worker.

The backstage managers have got their own share of the pie like Javed Ashraf Qazi, Habibullah Warraich, Jehangir Tareen, Wasi Zafar and Mian Shamim Haider. Wasi Zafar had defected from the PPP after the election and dropped directly in PML’s fold instead of his other PPP colleagues who turned into Patriots. He is also well connected in sensitive places. Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain is brother of Chief Justice Lahore High Court and former governor (late) Chaudhry Altaf Hussain.

Ghulam Sarwar Khan worked hard for Shaukat Aziz’s election campaign in Attock and was instrumental in fostering defections in his old party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Above all, he was the first person to demand in the National Assembly that President Musharraf must not shed his uniform and should back out from his solemn pledge to the nation he made on television, because the MMA also reneged on its promise to support him in the confidence vote and on the National Security Council.

Among other groups, Ejazul Haq is in his lone vote, while Hamid Nasir Chattha has got the coveted slot of Chairman Kashmir Committee. Mian Manzoor Wattoo has also not been accommodated.

Kabir Wasti also got a rough treatment. Being first to merge his Qasim Muslim League in the PML, he had gone extra miles to demonstrate his loyalty to Shujaat and Gen. Musharraf. He contributed in the unraveling of Jamali and discredited his fine record of three decades of struggle for democracy by unqualified support to a military ruler.

In the process, he was neither accommodated in the parliament nor the party or the government. He is living in political wilderness despite his sharp political acumen. “It serves him right,” says one of his old friends.

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