July issue 2004
In His Prime
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, 58, the prime minister-elect of Pakistan, and president of the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League, has been in politics for the last 25 years. He belongs to the Chaudhry clan of Gujarat, who have always been known to support the military establishment. And, not surprisingly, their biradari tops the list of those political families of Pakistan who have been the main beneficiaries of all military regimes. They have served the military establishment loyally since the days of General Ayub Khan, when Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s father, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, was appointed secretary-general of the Convention Muslim League that had been cobbled together by the military dictator to serve his interests.
Hussain’s father, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, a police constable in pre-Partition days, came from the lower middle class and had no political background. After the birth of Pakistan, he bought a textile mill and, in the early 1950s, entered local politics with the support of a local influential, Chaudhry Fazl Elahi, who became president of the country when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister. Zahoor Elahi, however, soon fell out with Fazl Elahi and formed his own faction on the strength of the sizeable Jat clan that have traditionally opposed Gujarat’s traditional elite, the Nawabzadgan of the Gujjar clan.
In return for state patronage, hefty bank loans and write-offs, Zahoor Elahi and his family, comprising his sons and nephews, always joined hands with military rulers from General Ayub Khan (1958-68) to General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88) and General Pervez Musharraf (October 1999) and have served them well. Elahi’s family is now one of the leading industrial houses, owning sugar, textile and flour mills, in addition to agricultural farms.
While Shujaat Hussain and his two brothers, Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain, an MNA, and Chaudhry Shafaat Hussain, district nazim of Gujarat, and a first cousin and brother-in-law, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the present chief minister of the Punjab, are full-time politicians, his sons, along with the sons of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi run the family business.
Zahoor Elahi was a bitter opponent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and was detained for several years during his tenure, on charges which did not stand in a court of law, and was later declared a ‘prisoner of conscience’ by Amnesty International.
When General Zia-ul-Haq took over, he released Elahi and made him a federal minister in his cabinet. It was Elahi who presented him the pen with which Zia-ul-Haq signed Mr Bhutto’s death warrant. In September 1981, Elahi was shot dead in Lahore and the blame was laid at the doorstep of his political opponents, the Al-Zulfikar, Murtaza Bhutto’s organisation.
Shujaat Hussain entered politics following the murder of his father and, in 1982, was made a member of General Zia-ul-Haq’s hand-picked consultative body, the Majlis-i-Shoora, and later elevated to the federal cabinet. In 1985, he won the non-party elections as a member of the National Assembly from Gujarat, a seat that he has won four times since, and lost only once, to the PPP’s Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar in 1993. He was elected senator on losing the National Assembly election.
Shujaat Hussain is a shrewd politician; though politically inarticulate and a poor orator, he is a master in the art of wheeling and dealing. He has always remained on the side of the country’s military establishment and ditched his civilian bosses and close friends and colleagues, whenever it came to a choice between the two.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has served as federal minister with two former prime ministers, Mohammed Khan Junejo and Nawaz Sharif. He left both of them when the military proceeded against them. When General Zia removed Mohammed Khan Junejo, Shujaat Hussain joined the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League that was supporting General Zia-ul-Haq. When Nawaz Sharif fell from grace, the Chaudhrys went with General Musharraf.
In 1986, the Chaudhrys had challenged the then chief minister of the Punjab, Nawaz Sharif, through a no-confidence motion but failed to oust him. Nawaz Sharif subsequently made up with them, but he always saw them as a potential threat and kept them at arm’s length. He did not allow their influence to spread and saw to it that Pervez Elahi never became chief minister of the Punjab during his tenure as prime minister of the country.
When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted on October 12, 1999, in a military coup by President General Musharraf, Hussain waited in the wings for a while to part ways but immediately distanced himself from Sharif, using one pretext or the other. Sharif became so distrustful of him that he appointed his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, to look after the party’s affairs and she, in fact, ran Nawaz’s campaign for his release more effectively than party leaders like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
After Sharif was sent into exile in December 2000, Shujaat showed his true colours and, using former Punjab governor Mian Azhar’s good offices, worked to split the Pakistan Muslim League, and form a faction supportive of General Musharraf. This faction is now ruling the country.
Shujaat turned to Mian Azhar for help because he was known to be an upright man and enjoyed popularity among the workers. When Shujaat’s purpose was served, following the October 2002 general elections, which this faction won, Mian Azhar was summarily removed from the position of party president with the help of Prime Minister Zafrullah Jamali.
Hussain’s connections with General Musharraf date back to the days when both of them studied at Lahore’s Forman Christian College from where Musharraf’s confidante, Tariq Aziz, secretary general of the National Security Council, also graduated.
Hoping to govern the country by proxy, Hussain helped his old friend Zafrullah Jamali, a politician from the small province of Balochistan who had no support in the ruling parliamentary party, to become prime minister in November 2002. But, soon enough, he became disillusioned with him. Reportedly Jamali was asked to quit or face the threat of an unceremonious ouster through a no-confidence motion in the parliament. Jamali resigned on June 26.
Hussain is the 20th prime minister of Pakistan and the 11th in the last 20 years. He is down-to-earth and adept in the art of real politik. He suffers from poor health and this may provide his successor, Shaukat Aziz, more room to work as de facto prime minister.
Hussain has already nominated finance minister Shaukat Aziz to be the next candidate for prime minister once he gets elected to the National Assembly’s lower house in order to be eligible for this position.
In Pakistan’s 57-year-history, no prime minister and president have been known to work with each other smoothly and have always parted on a bitter note. What lies in store for this trusted and obedient ally of General Pervez Musharraf remains to be seen.