September issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

For Pakistan’s newest Prime Minister, winning the by-elections in Tharparkar and Attock — with the entire administrative machinery at his disposal — was a cakewalk. Winning the hearts and minds of Pakistan’s 150 million citizens promises to be a different ballgame altogether.

From now on, Shaukat Aziz is on his own — in a manner of speaking. His two mentors, President Musharraf and PML(Q) chief, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, each have their own power base. Aziz has none, which means he will have to rely on one or the other for his political survival. Not a very endearing prospect for a man just starting out in Pakistan’s murky, shark-infested political waters.

Certain circles swear by the man’s brilliant, incisive mind, his excellent contacts, and his decision-making skills, all of which proved to be assets in his earlier stint as finance minister. But running a tight economic ship is one thing and running a complex country like Pakistan, with its multifarious problems, quite another.The attempt on his life at an election meeting in Attock probably gave Aziz a taste of what lies in store.

Law and order pose the biggest challenge to his government. Sectarian killings, bomb blasts and high profile assassination attempts are the order of the day. While Pakistan’s macro-economic indicators may be right, unless the violence stops, the much needed foreign investment to set the wheels of industry in motion will not materialise. If Shaukat Aziz wants to ensure that the effects of a stable economy filter down to Pakistan’s 150 million people, 50 million of whom still live below the poverty line, this issue will have to be addressed on a priority basis. As will the volatile situation in Wana and Balochistan.

Shaukat Aziz faces the daunting task of defusing tensions and thrashing out a political solution to a political problem. Branding Baloch nationalist leaders traitors or terrorists will only create more resentment against Musharraf’s army and queer the pitch further for a prime minister who has no public persona and no political constituency. As it is, Aziz’s position is precarious: he heads a divergent coalition that will demand its pound of flesh for any favours rendered. One is a witness to the manner in which every coalition partner was clamouring for the maximum number of ministries in the cabinet. And by all accounts, political expediency rather than merit won the day. However, now that Shaukat is in the saddle, he is stuck with this motley crew, for better or worse.

Will Shaukat Aziz settle for the parameters laid down for him by his military patrons or will he assert himself and create a space of his own to mould the country’s destiny in his own vision? After all, the savvy world-renowned banker has been exposed to the biggest democracies in the world and is familiar with the concepts of civil liberties, human rights and good governance.

Will the corporate mind of Pakistan’s 23rd prime minister prove equal to the challenge of governing what is often described as “the ungovernable,” or will he fade into oblivion like many before him?

The stage is set, the audience awaits. Let the show begin

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.