Washington DC, July 11, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.


From Abbaji's Direct Rule to the Soft Reign of Ammaji

By M T Butt

ISLAMABAD, 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.

As 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.

Islamabad 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.

For 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.

Aziz 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.

In 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.

Another 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.

Islamabad 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.

“Both 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 said.

Akhtar 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.

Mahmood is one of the few bureaucrats to accompany General Musharraf on his current Scandinavian and Central Asian tours.

Ammaji 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.

She 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.

Her 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.

But 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 Pervez Musharraf.”

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 loving.”

During 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.

Secretary 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 the kingdom.

Slowly 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.

The 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.

For 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.

What 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.”

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