WASHINGTON DC, May 4, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf's Men Begin Political Game to Oust Aziz, Bring Humayun

By M T Butt & Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI, May 4: New political games have begun in Islamabad and the target this time is the very obedient Prime Minister, Citi-banker Shaukat Aziz, whose economic performance is being projected as a dismal failure but the real reasons are different.

General Musharraf feels frustrated by PM Aziz's handling of the Zardari arrival fiasco as before leaving for New Delhi, Musharraf had authorized Aziz to handle the event but Aziz did not assert himself and allowed the Choudhries of Lahore to create a colossal embarrassment for Musharraf, both during his Indian visit and in the on-going secret negotiations with PPP, competent sources say in Islamabad.

Another potent reason is Shaukat Aziz's defiance in the appointment of the new PIA Chairman, which infuriated the inner core of Musharraf’s close friends who were ardent supporters of ousted PIA Chairman Ahmed Saeed.

These friends are also known to be close sponsors of Humayun Akhtar Khan, the sharpshooting billionaire wonder-kid from Lahore, the son of a General who became rich because of CIA. Humayun got the biggest political boost of his career when two weeks back Musharraf dropped at his Lahore residence for lunch and they discussed politics of over two hours.

The Musharraf-Humayun meeting kicked off the "Get-Aziz" campaign in Islamabad as General Musharraf, a totally confused man caught in the middle of a political whirlpool, wants to talk to Benazir Bhutto and her PPP while retaining the support of Punjab’s Choudhries and opposing the religious grouping of MMA. Yet his political allies, in their own selfish interests, want PPP to stay away from the Army and would be more comfortable with the MMA as long as Nawaz Sharif sticks to his hard line against the military.

In this high stake political poker, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz fits nowhere as he has no constituency and no political muscle. So the man can be sacrificed either by the Army if they hit it with the PPP or by the Choudhries if MMA starts to play ball or breaks up.

According to analyst Nusrat Javeed, a well-informed political journalist of Islamabad, “Rumors are rife in Islamabad claiming that Humayun Akhtar Khan, who had almost succeeded in replacing Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali at Budget time last year, was again emitting prime ministerial vibes.”

This time Humayun is careful. After meeting Musharraf he told the Weekly Independent of Lahore: "I will hold more meetings with General Musharraf in future. It was my first meeting with the President Musharraf at my Lahore residence and more such meetings will take place in (near) future." He refused to discuss his chances as the next Prime Minister.

He said the President visited his house only to have lunch with him; however, they also discussed prevailing political situation in the country as well as the city. He said he was moving forward under the leadership of General Musharraf.

“I know of at least two meetings, where some top aides of General Musharraf keenly listened to a highly critical evaluation of the current finance managers’ policies and their ominous consequences. In one of these meetings, a daring “young Turk” had even forewarned that the “bullish bubble of our Stock Exchange is about to burst,” well connected analyst Nusrat Javeed wrote recently in The News.

In Islamabad people are also watching the business tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani, who is known for his behind-the-scene role in making or unmaking prime ministers. According to analysts this tycoon remained a diehard promoter and supporter of Shaukat Aziz for many months. But of late he has begun telling the people of his confidence that Shaukat Aziz had failed to attract foreign investment. “Why not try Humayun Akhtar Khan?” Hashwani has been asking.

According to analyst Nusrat, “close to the presentation of another budget the usual makers and breakers of a prime minister in this country are trying to repeat history. It is too early for me to commit whether they will succeed in their attempt or not.”

After his almost successful, but ultimately abortive, bid last year to become the PM, Humayun Akhtar Khan has got his opening to attack Shaukat Aziz because of the PIA affair. The national airline was run by Musharraf’s nominee Choudhry Ahmed Saeed for 4 years with a firm grip, as he violated all rules and regulations to act as the Chairman, MD, Finance Director and Purchase Director, all in one.

The airline was given colossal amounts of Government money in cash and sovereign guarantees and Saeed went on a buying spree never seen before but all his promises and projections of profits were based on cooked-up accounts and did not materialize. Shaukat Aziz was so annoyed he refused more demands of money and then told Musharraf that Saeed had to go. Musharraf agreed reluctantly.

But Saeed was a member of the inner core of Musharraf’s friends prominent among them Tariq Aziz, the National Security Adviser, a Bridge Buddy Retired Brig Niaz and Lahore’s famous Horse Bookie Pappoo. All of them were last year working hard for Humayun Akhtar Khan as the replacement of Jamali. Premature leakage of this news activated the Gujrat Choudhries who stood up against Humayun’s nomination, thus paving the way for no-body’s-man Shaukat Aziz to become a consensus PM.

Now by sacking Saeed as PIA chief, Shaukat Aziz has given this core group of Musharraf’s men an opening to go for him. When tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani joined them, the momentum got going and now media has started talking about an imminent change. When former PM Jamali recently talked about a change at the top to PPP-turncoat Faisal Saleh Hayat, he was flabbergasted and rushed to see Shaukat Aziz.

The Choudhries of Gujrat are again going to be the main obstacle for Humayun but Musharraf is not too happy with how the Punjab Government led by the Choudhries thwarted Asif Ali Zardari’s show in Lahore in a bid to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion between the middlemen of the Army and the PPP negotiating in secret.

While Musharraf was talking to PPP, his worried allies, the Choudhries and other right of center parties were quietly discussing their options with the MMA as well and recently Musharraf’s main spokesman, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, even said publicly that PML-Q and MMA could contest the 2007 election jointly. It was a strange statement made in Peshawar, where MMA runs its provincial government, which prompted Najam Sethi’s Daily Times to editorially question his political sense.

“Mr Ahmed’s boss, General Pervez Musharraf, has made plain that he is getting fed up with the MMA’s ideology and its troublesome behavior,” the DT Editorial said on May 3. “So what does Mr Ahmed mean when he simultaneously slaps and hugs the MMA? Is he serious about allying with the MMA or is this his (or the government’s?) signal to the PPP that time is running out for the latter and it must sidle up to the PML-Q if it wants a share in political power? In both cases the pertinent question is whether Mr Ahmed has just shot his mouth off or fired this shot with a nod from General Musharraf?”

But MMA is not taking the bait easily. It has struck on two fronts at a time. Firstly it has once again restored its political contacts with the mainstream alliance ARD and both have now taken the hard position that no elections would be acceptable under Musharraf as President of the country.

Secondly MMA has announced it will go back to the streets, although Musharraf has been giving in to their demands under the impression that friends within his coalition partners would bring the MMA around. Musharraf has already conceded the religious column in the passport, a ban on mix marathon races and a compulsory scarf (Dopatta) on the heads of PIA air hostesses. After these concessions political managers of Musharraf were hoping that MMA would strike a deal over the political engineering of local bodies polls and would agree to a reasonable share to the exclusion of the mainstream parties. Musharraf and the political parties believe that the local bodies polls will be crucial for every stakeholder in political power.

Musharraf and his political managers had been planning these games for more than a year. They thought that by manipulating political parties they would ensure that Musharraf would become head of a loose political alliance in which all Muslim Leagues would become one including a breakaway faction of Nawaz, led by Shahbaz Sharif, Leghari’s Millat Party and Sindh Democratic Alliance. That did not happen because of an adamant Nawaz Sharif.

Similarly PPP-breakaways, the Sherpao Group and Patriots, were merged into one PPP but since no one could dare break away from Benazir Bhutto this plan did not work. A similar plan to build an alternate MQM, comprising all factions including that of Altaf Hussain, Afaq Ahmed, Umar Goga and others also backfired when Dr Imran Farooq failed to deliver. In fact the MQM operation went wrong so badly the Government had to halt it and completely surrender to Altaf Hussain’s demands.

Recently when a party leader of Afaq’s Mohajir Quami Movement went to Islamabad he was given only five minutes by Tariq Aziz in which a few words of apology were presented on behalf of Afaq Ahmed. Tariq Aziz plainly told him that no immediate relief was possible and at least six months were needed to work out a new plan in which Afaq group could have some chance to revive itself.

How some hidden hands have started working against Shaukat Aziz and his government was also evident on May 3 when out of the blue, and without the knowledge and instructions of the Government, Islamabad journalists were beaten up and arrested as they were observing the World Press Freedom Day in front of Parliament, an otherwise routine rally.

“What happened with a group of working journalists in Islamabad on Tuesday was a text bookish example of how some “permanent institutions” of the State, police and the rest of law enforcers (meaning ISI and Army) deliberately begin embarrassing a sitting government,” columnist Nusrat Javeed wrote on Tuesday.

The Aziz Government had just come out of a major confrontation with the Press when for 3 days the Parliament was boycotted as a protest against the treatment given to the media at Lahore Airport on Zardari’s arrival, but this happened right under the nose of the PM, without he or his Information Minister knowing it. Press again walked out of Parliament and a massive hoopla began on who was running the show, pitching the media against the Government.

A hapless Information Minister rushed to the House and declared on the Floor that the Government “was not responsible for the latest arrests and beatings”. This led to wide speculation about who was calling the shots and the House had to set up an All-Parties Committee to investigate and fix the responsibility.

Analysts were sure that nothing would come out of this committee as the real masters of the country were behind it and these poker players in the House hardly have the balls to stand up to the big boots.

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