Press Gallery: Putting aside Musharraf’s seven-point agenda
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: Shaukat Aziz took oath as Pakistan’s 20th prime minister on Saturday morning and took a vote of confidence from the treasury members later in the afternoon. The opposition continued its boycott to protest against National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain’s refusal to issue production orders for its candidate Makhdoom Javed Hashmi.
As the opposition did not come to the house, there was no rumpus, bench-thumping or sloganeering to keep the treasury members awake. Most of the members slept while Mr Aziz made his maiden speech in the house as prime minister. Those who were awake were not interested in the speech, which was no different to what this nation has been hearing for the last 57 years.
After Mr Aziz concluded his speech, only a couple of dozen members stayed back to congratulate him. The others left the house, preferring to stay away and relax instead of hearing what they thought was essentially a repetition of the budget speech Mr Aziz made in June this year. And it is clear from the very first day that he is a prime minister even lonelier than Zafarullah Jamali, who at least had the support of old friends like Hamid Nasir Chattha and some others in his party.
The next phase in the process of in-house change(s) is the formation of a federal cabinet. This cabinet is expected to be larger than any before. There are reports that at least 50 MNAs will be accommodated as federal and state ministers. Some former federal ministers are likely to be dropped this time to give new faces a chance, while some former federal ministers’ portfolios will be changed.
Mr Aziz cannot accommodate all 191 treasury members who voted him to the office of the prime minister, but every one of them is looking for a ministerial slot. His coalition partners are also unwilling to compromise on the power-sharing formula they agreed with President Musharraf after the 2002 elections to form a government. Though Mr Aziz, as is widely believed, is equipped with “deadly PR skills” and can win (some) journalists to his side with “pleasing” comments and a “friendly” smile, the politicians will not be satisfied with just a “warm” hug.
The speech Mr Aziz made in the house after taking the vote of confidence was stereotypical and contrary to what many had expected from this economic wizard, whom the establishment imported from Citibank to turn around the economy of. His speech offered nothing new or to be proud of. Listening to Mr Aziz’s speech, Pakistan seemed a country that hadn’t yet started, with an economy in a shambles, law and order deteriorating and institutions yet to be built. A complete mess.
While giving his four-point agenda on law and order, security and national defence, protection of the national interest in foreign policy and economic development, he did not make a single reference to what his benefactor envisioned in his seven point-agenda of rebuilding national confidence and morale, strengthening the federation, removing inter-provincial disharmony and restoring national cohesion, dispensing speedy justice, depoliticising state institutions, devolving power to the grass roots and ensuring swift and across-the-board accountability. Not only did his 17-page speech miss references to the achievements of President Musharraf and his “enlightened moderation”, he did not give his own vision of Pakistan as a prime minister. One treasury member jokingly commented: “His (Mr Aziz’s) will be the pragmatic enlightenment.”
Mr Aziz hosted a dinner for the parliamentarians to thank them for their support, but most of them were convinced that it was their (the members’) farewell dinner. They felt it was their last interaction with the prime minister, who would soon close the doors of Prime Minister’s House. He is not Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who was accessible to all party leaders and workers. Accessibility will also be a problem for the ruling coalition’s parliamentarians because after the attempt on Mr Aziz’s life, the security around him has been tightened and, like his “boss”, he will live in bunker-like protection.