Monday, August 31, 2009

Musharraf is padding to play another innings, on front foot

My brand is finance management not politics: Aziz; MQM is at Musharraf’s back, fully; Musharraf to lead
a unified PML; Pakistanis dismayed to see democracy under pressure; Get disappointed with leaders

Zahid Malik

Islamabad—The assertive youth of the world are in a defiant mood. Very casually dressed tourists were spending and enjoying. But the Britshers themselves were not spending much. Economic depression of 2008, and now, much criticized, rather tremendously abhorred, involvement of Britain’s Armed Forces in the “unwinnable” war in Afghanistan was putting some what unbearable strain on British dwindling economy. The locals were not in a “feel good” state of mind. But Pakistanis looked comparatively more depressive. The Pakistanis of all walks of life, whom I met during my one-week stay in London, were extremely critical and disappointed over their motherland’s present set-up on three counts:

1. There is no governance not to call of good governance in our country, where we would like to be buried despite all that.

2. The Federation of Pakistan is getting more fragile with danger of Balkanization.

3. The increasing distancing of two trusted friends of Pakistan thus fast eroding of Pakistan’s strategic interests.

But before I air the sentiments of distressed Pakistanis a bit more I would briefly write about some of the printable parts/segments of my in-depth sessions with three London – based charismatic and popular Pakistani leaders. They are General Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, Mr Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and Mr Altaf Bhai, all time powerful leader of MQM.

General Pervez Musharraf:

Contrary to public perception here in Pakistan, the new abode of the former President, 28 Castleacre, is just 3-bed modest apartment. Not luxuriously decorated. It is a ten-storey building with three apartments on each floor. Some prominent Pakistanis like Mr Aftab Sherpao, and Lt Gen (Retd) Zahid Ali Akbar, former Chairman WAPDA, have apartments of their own in another building about 100 yards away as pointed out to me by the former President, while we were looking the surroundings through a window of his apartment. Mr. Rehman Malik, the strongman of the Government and Sir Anwar Parvez, a Pakistani business tycoon have comfortable residences in two adjoining buildings. Thus the area of General Musharraf’s new abode can be described as 5% Gulbarg, Lahore of Pakistan, while Mr. Shaukat Aziz has an elegant apartment in a posh all-gora sector.

General Pervez Musharraf was a refreshing model of strong commitment, unwavering confidence, and with usual commando exuberance. My two-hour long interaction with General Pervez Musharraf convinced me that he was all willing to play another innings in Pakistan and that too on the front foot. He totally and stubbornly rejects all awkward bouncers, some of which, may injure him.

The former President is convinced that all of his Presidential actions were taken after due consideration and on the basis of “Pakistan first”. Some of the top Grade 22 politicians of Pakistan, belonging to various political parties, but mostly with PML (Q) identity, are in touch with him on a regular basis. Many politicians who are somebody in the Pakistani political set-up call on him when they visit London and all of them have to wait for a day or two to fix an appointment. Fast track meetings are possible only if one routes through Mr Shaukat Aziz who is in touch with his former “boss” on a 24-hour basis.

The former President is thinking in terms of forming a new Muslim League Party which may take all splinter groups of Muslim League, under his wings. “Pir Sahib has assured me that his hurs will enthusiastically receive me at the airport whenever I return to Pakistan”, General Musharraf told me. Even Makhdoom Amin Fahim had a candle – light dinner with him at Dubai when both of them were in UAE to attend the fabulous marriage party of the son of Mr Sadaruddin Hashwani, fondly known as Sadru.

However, it is pertinent to mention that the former President is not likely to come back in the near future. He has an enviable statesman clout in many countries. Khadim Al-Haramain Al-Sharifain powerful King Abdullah has extended him an invitation to visit the Kingdom as his personal guest. He is also scheduled to deliver 14 lectures at various establishments in USA where Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, will be a co-speaker in some of the engagements. General Pervez Musharraf has acquired a status of an accomplished, par excellence speaker, who speaks with courage and conviction. So, to be brief, he will in the near future not he back to Pakistan because of his impending international engagements.

I wish some of our single-track revengeful politicians in Pakistan must have risen above their self and the former President, who enjoys tremendous respectability abroad, should have been “pardoned” and informally integrated with in the state institutions as a trouble shooter abroad if and when situation so demanded.

Mr Shaukat Aziz: In addition to our two-hour long joint meeting with General Pervez Musharraf, I had two one-to-one sessions with our former soft-spoken, elegantly dressed Prime Minister Mr Shaukat Aziz at his favourite Chalsea Brassiere, an elite restaurant at regal Saloane Square. “My brand is finance management and I am not a politician”, Mr Shaukat Aziz repeatedly emphasised. But I noticed he too is in touch with the changing domestic political scenario and he receives quite a good number of telephone calls from his friends in Pakistan. His old colleagues in his Cabinet and Parliament, along with the leadership of the business community do call on him at his favourite rendezvous, Chalsea Brassiere. Mr Shaukat Aziz who usually moves about in the surrounding areas on foot, feels elated quite naturally, when Pakistani visiting families, desi tourists, who come across throng on him for adoring handshakes. He would stop for a while, enquire about their welfare and their hometowns and would resume his walk with departing words of advice, “Bahn (sister), Beta (son) please pray for Pakistan”. This shows his deep concern for the country.

On professional side, Mr Shaukat Aziz a highly respected name in the international banking sector has back-to-back meetings with top executives and senior functionaries of various corporate establishments and governments who seek his expert advice on their depression-ridden economies. The “clients”, who get free service, were not only London-based but invitations pour in for him from various continents. Mr Shaukat Aziz was a state guest of the People’s Republic of China just three weeks ago.

I may mention here that once Mr Shaukat Aziz took me to a pub where, as he said, even late lady Diana, would drop in and charm the beer drinkers. It was indeed a fascinating experience. But, excuse me, I do not mean the non-smoker and non-alcoholic former Prime Minister of Pakistan took me inside the said pub. He just wanted to enlighten me about British culture. About 30 young and radiant boys and girls were drinking beer on the pavement, outside the pub, as inside it was house full. We just passed through them scanning their body language.

Look, most of them are MBAs, executives of banks, they work daylong like anything and unwind themselves on their way back to their homes. They move in groups”. This is the culture of the new breed of young executives. Mr Shaukat Aziz enlightened me.

A calm, quiet, friction-free highly respected the former Prime Minister of Pakistan is in peace with himself and with the rest of the world.

Mr Altaf Hussain: Mr Altaf Hussain is the one and the only Pakistani leader of his kind. He cannot be put in any of the categories of our old – fashioned feudal-minded political leaders. He is a genuine leader who earns respect and following of his party workers – most of whom are middle class and low middle class citizens of Karachi and other major towns of Sindh. I remain in touch with him even when I am in Islamabad. I do so because the MQM, and its all-powerful vibrant leader, are destined to play a critical and significant role in the consolidation of the Federation. The International Secretariat of the MQM at the far end of Edjware Road (45-48 Elizbeth House) is the most efficient and well-equipped secretariat, which no other political party of Pakistan can boast of. Enthusiastic staffers like Mr Mustafa Azizabadi, Mr Mohammad Anwar and Mr Asif Siddiqi, who are also members of the Rabita committee of MQM are the life and soul of the Secretariat.

I had two sessions with Mr Altaf Bhai, one at the well-laid tea table where Mr Nisar Khoro, Speaker of Sindh Assembly, his brother, Mr Sohail Warraich, a TV celebrity (Geo), Mr Hayat Shaheen, a Kashmiri stalwart, Mr Salim Shahzad a veteran MQM leader and one or two other guests were lavishly entertained. The MQM Quaid was in full form and it was a pleasure to hear Mr Altaf Hussain’s witty remarks about all and sundry.

On a serious note, in one-to-one detailed meeting, whatever the MQM Quaid said off the record impressed me a lot. Mr Altaf Bhai said, quite emphatically, that:

1. General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf was being harassed because he was a mohajir (refugee). “But we will not let any one to cause harm to him. Mr Malik convey my this solemn pledge to those who are Musharraf’s blood thirsty”.

2. For God sake save Balochistan. Don’t kill and get killed.

3. A process of Balkanization of Pakistan has begun. Is there anyone to check the process?

After my interaction with Altaf Bhai, I would re-assert that it is unfair to dub him as just “MQM leader”. To limit Mr Altaf Hussain’s role to Karachi/Sindh only was an underestimation of his vast potential to emerge as a national leader with a federation-consolidating influence and capacity. I am glad MQM intends to accelerate opening of its Units in every town of Punjab. This is what I have been suggesting to the MQM leadership for the last many years.

There is much to write about but it would be unfair to keep the readers engaged for a longer time. However, before concluding my report on my one-week stay in London it is pertinent to mention that almost all the Pakistanis, other than the three above-mentioned top Pakistani personalities, were getting extremely dismayed over the present-day political scenario of Pakistan. They were particularly disappointed with the uni-focus, self-centered politics of the Quaid of PML (N), Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. They do not expect much from the President of Pakistan, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, but they expect a lot from Mian Nawaz Sharif. They were also frustrated with the way the ongoing democratic process was coming under pressure. However, all of them feel proud of the way all the segments of State and society of Pakistan got together to frustrate the foreign-funded militancy in the country. “We are proud of Pakistan in this regard”, they said.


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