PRESS GALLERY: Of palace intrigues, power politics
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: The 9th Senate session was prorogued on Friday. Though the upper house was in session for 11 days, it met for only five days and that too without taking up any substantive business. Prime Minister Jamali did not make an appearance in the upper house throughout the session and most ministers were absent. Most of the time in these five working days was consumed by Points of Order. Agenda items were by and large not dealt with.
Expectations were great and hopes were high when President Musharraf announced elections in 2002 to restore democracy in the country and transfer power to an elected government, to run the country with an independent and sovereign parliament taking decisions on all national issues. Though a façade of democracy has been put up, parliament has not even been empowered to rubber-stamp the policies of the Musharraf-Jamali government.
The opposition parties were expecting the government to initiate a debate on Pakistan’s foreign policy vis-à-vis India and take the Senate into confidence over the recent developments in relations between the two countries and formulate a national consensus for the forthcoming talks between Islamabad and New Delhi. Also, the issue of nuclear scientists was kept secret from the parliamentarians despite that they had asked for an in-camera session of the house.
But a significant change in the behaviour of the opposition was quite visible as they ended their year-long boycott of the proceedings after the passage of the 17th Constitutional Amendment Bill last month. Though the constitutional crisis is now over after the resolution of the Legal Framework Order (LFO) issue, President Musharraf getting a vote of confidence and his addressing the joint session of parliament, “palace intrigues” against Prime Minister Jamali have once again started taking place.
This time the name of Education Minister Zobaida Jalal is in circulation as a possible replacement for Mr Jamali in the event of an in-house change. Unlike a majority of women parliamentarians, she is an elected member of the National Assembly, belongs to Mr Jamali’s province and she is the one of the only two members (Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz being the other) of the Musharraf cabinet who continue their ministerial jobs in the Jamali government.
The intrigues against Mr Jamali started soon after he was sworn-in as prime minister. The names of Shaukat Aziz, Humayun Akhtar and Aftab Sherpao were speculated upon to replace him as PM. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi too was said to be one of the aspirants and a “paid” media campaign for his image-building and highlighting his one-year performance as chief minister of the Punjab was also launched. After all, he had the example of the Sharif family to follow, conquering all of Pakistan after establishing their rule in the Punjab.
Our mole tells us that the man behind all these “palace intrigue” is no other than President Musharraf’s top aide and a close friend of the Chaudhris of Gujrat, and he is not even on talking terms with Mr Jamali who turns his face on seeing him in parliament. This top aide of President Musharraf has been instrumental in the removal of Mr Jamali’s personal staff including his special assistant and principal secretary. He continues to pressure Mr Jamali from various quarters to also sideline his political secretary, who has already taken a backseat on the advice of the prime minister.
The most immediate problem Mr Jamali is faced with is that of expansion in his cabinet and shuffling portfolios of his ministers. We are told that this long-awaited cabinet expansion will now take place after Eidul Azha next month. But before finalizing his cabinet with changes in portfolios, he intends to finish forming standing committees of the Senate and National Assembly to accommodate about 40 parliamentarians as their chairmen so that the list of aspirants for ministerial jobs is shortened.
In the process, major changes are expected. Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz is being tipped as the next foreign minister with Khurshid Kasuri becoming law minister and Hafeez Sheikh getting the Finance Ministry. Mr Jamali had wanted to change the portfolio of Faisal Saleh Hayat, but Mr Hayat managed to continue after he and all the PPP Patriots met President Musharraf after he took a vote of confidence. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid is aspiring for the portfolio of Commerce and in this event Humayun Akhtar may get the Privatization Ministry or chairmanship of the Board of Investment.
But all these changes are subject to the approval of President Musharraf. However, the names of new inductions have almost been finalized and they are Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Ijazul Haq, Riaz Pirzada, Dr Sher Afgan Niazi and Javed Ashraf Qazi. Besides them, at least 10 ministers of state will also be appointed to accommodate all coalition partners in the federal cabinet, which will be the largest ever in Pakistan and negate President Musharraf’s much-trumpeted policy of right-sizing federal ministries.