Jamali's exit

Print edition : July 30, 2004

The resignation of Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali from his post once again points to the undisputed power that President Pervez Musharraf wields in the ruling establishment of Pakistan.

in Islamabad

Mir Safarullah Khan Jamali waves to supporters at the Rawalpindi railway station on July 3 as he boards a train to return to his native Baluchistan.-FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP

IN the 56-year history of Pakistan, military and civilian heads have been at the helm of affairs for 27 years each. But there is more to this fact than meets the eye, for in or out of power, the military has had a firm grip on every sphere of life in the country. For instance, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was the 25th civilian Prime Minister to leave office in the 27 years civilians could claim to have been in power. In contrast, there have been only four military rulers who exercised power directly in the 27 years of military rule.

In fact Jamali, Pakistan's first Prime Minister belonging to the Baluch community, was fortunate to have been allowed to continue in office for over 19 months, a privilege granted only to five of his predecessors. After all, his only qualifications for the office were his lack of a political base and pliable nature. Jamali did not acquire a political `spine'. On the contrary, he never missed an opportunity to proclaim that President General Pervez Musharraf was his boss.

Then what led to the ouster? The only thing that is clear is that Musharraf was in a hurry to oust Jamali. There is no other explanation for the anointment of Chaudhry Shujjat Hussain, the leader of the military-controlled Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as his interim successor. In less than six weeks Hussain has to hand over power to international banker-turned-politician Shaukat Aziz, once he is elected to the National Assembly (see box).

Musharraf characterised the event as the smoothest ever transfer of power in the history of the country. It is another matter that no one is prepared to take his words at face value as the truth is that there has been no transfer of power. Power remains with Musharraf. Shaukat Aziz has no political background and perhaps therein lies the reason for the change of guard.

Apparently, Jamali tried his best to convince Musharraf to let him continue, but to no avail. Ten hours before he decided to `resign', a confident Jamali told mediapersons that neither had he decided to resign nor had anyone asked him to quit. He complained about media speculation on his future.

Once it was clear to Jamali that his fate was sealed, he joined hands with Hussain and sought just one concession from Musharraf. Jamali wanted to block the chances of Humayun Akthar, Commerce Minister in his government and son of a former General, succeeding him. Jamali suspected that Akthar was behind the campaign for his ouster. It appears that Musharraf anticipated the request.

Interim Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujjat Hussain (right) being sworn in by President Pervez Musharraf at the Presidential Palace in Islamabad on June 30.-AP

Hussain too had reasons to be wary of the emergence of Akthar as Prime Minister. Akhtar, like Hussain, hails from Punjab and could pose a challenge to his political base in the province, which is ruled by his brother, Chief Minister Pervez Elahi. Evidently, the President appears to have taken a considered risk in nominating Hussain as the interim Prime Minister. Hussain is not in good health and could not be expected to cope with the pressures of office and resist Musharraf.

SOME recent incidents seem to have worked against Jamali. He reportedly spoke against the domination of the military during his last foreign tour. Moreover, Jamali reportedly told a close friend that he would fix Musharraf once he stepped down from the post of Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) as he had promised in December.

Jamali also failed to persuade the coalition of six religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), to drop its opposition to Gen. Musharraf's continuance as the CoAS. In fact, his perceived acceptability to the MMA, many of whose leaders held him in some esteem despite his proximity to the Americans, was one of the reasons why Jamali was chosen to be Prime Minister.

In the event, faced with an embarrassing constitutional deadlock which lasted for over a year because of the refusal of the MMA to endorse the various changes introduced by Musharraf into the Constitution through executive orders, the President had to give an assurance that he would resign as CoAS by the end of 2004. Only then could Musharraf secure the support of the MMA for the constitutional amendments which have, inter alia, restored the presidential powers to dismiss an elected Prime Minister and to dissolve the National Assembly, which the late President General Zia-ul-Haq had arrogated to himself and which Nawaz Sharif had got abolished in 1997, when he became Prime Minister for a second time.

Several weeks before Jamali's resignation, circles close to Musharraf indicated that he might not honour his commitment. The reason given was that the situation in the country stemming mainly from its role as the frontline ally of the United States in the "war against terrorism" demanded his continuation in the post of CoAS. Subsequently, Musharraf declared in media interviews that he was not bound by the pact as the MMA had gone back on its pledge to support the military-dominated National Security Council (NSC).

Meanwhile, Jamali committed the blunder of openly soliciting the support of the Opposition. He perhaps calculated that if he could win over the Opposition, Musharraf would spare him.

The uncertainty and the intrigues that have come to characterise Pakistani politics were summed up by a prominent politician of the country: "Joh kal tha, aaj nahi hai; jo aaj hain kal nahi rahegi; kya kal aanewala ayega? Wah re Pakistani jhamooriyat" (The one who was here yesterday is gone (Jamali); the one who is here today won't be there tomorrow (Shujjat Hussain); and will the one who is expected tomorrow (Shaukat Aziz) ever arrive? Hail Pakistan's democracy).

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