A setback to politics

Print edition : September 24, 2004

PAKISTAN has a brand new Prime Minister in Shaukat Aziz. He is acknowledged as intelligent, humane, suave and efficient. But the appointment has hardly enthused anyone.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz (left) speaking in the National Assembly in Islamabad on August 27, watched by former Prime Ministers Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali (right) and Chaudhry Shujaat.-AFP

Enlightened sections of the Pakistani society see the elevation of Aziz as a major blow to the politicians and political parties struggling to wrest control of the state from the military. The mainstream political parties and leaders already feel alienated and find the role of the military too domineering. With leaders of three mainstream parties, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain, in exile and the country faced with serious challenges within and without, the clamour from civil society is for the politics of inclusion.

By zeroing in on Aziz, a banker-turned politician, President General Pervez Musharraf has once again demonstrated his contempt for the mainstream political leaders and parties.

Aziz is a baby in the world of politics. He returned to Pakistan five years ago after spending nearly three decades abroad. In 1999, after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup, Aziz was persuaded to give up a successful 30-year career as an international banker to become Finance Minister in the military government. He joined the Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), which enjoys the patronage of the military, just before the October 2002 general elections, but chose to enter the Senate as he obviously did not want to contest a direct election.

Aziz had no political constituency when Musharraf showed Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali the door and named him Prime Minister-in-waiting. In order to fulfil the constitutional requirement and to create the impression that he enjoyed broad support, two safe government seats in the Lower House of Parliament were vacated and Aziz was put up as a candidate in the byelection to them.

Dyed in the International Monetary Fund-World Bank philosophy of free market economy, the new Prime Minister is credited with having turned round the economy of the country. But 9/11 and the consequent economic benefits to Pakistan have made it difficult to judge the real performance of Aziz.

So his only qualifications are the backing from the most powerful quarters and the fact that he is the least unacceptable candidate to the dozens of contenders for the post. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is the chosen nominee of the President and the Chief of the Army Staff.

Since the naming of Aziz, the chorus of "honest and efficient" has been on. In the past few weeks, the courtiers have not stopped saying how with the new Prime Minister the "golden days of good governance" are round the corner and how the country is poised to emerge as the "Asian economic tiger".

With technocrats being hailed as the panacea for all the ills of Pakistan society, one wonders what the role of politics and politicians is. Since when has good governance been divorced from politics? Are politicians incapable of economic management in the new era dominated by economics?

In some ways, Aziz's appointment represents a failure for the General's experiment with limited democracy. Jamali, although a presidential loyalist, was a politician. In the days to come, Pakistan will find itself looking even less like a functioning democracy than it does now.

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