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Shaukat Aziz silent abroad

Updated December 25, 2013

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Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz. — File photo
Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz. — File photo

He’s been dragged back from political obscurity this week, or at least his name has, by the very man who put him on the political map to begin with, Pervez Musharraf. Defending his Nov 2007 imposition of Emergency, the former president-cum-army chief has claimed that it was on the advice of then prime minister Shaukat Aziz that emergency was imposed.

Shaukat Aziz — remember him? The expensively suited, self-styled schmoozer who once tried but failed to impress Condoleezza Rice?

Having returned to life in the private sector — he is based in London though travels frequently to homes in Dubai and New York in between globetrotting as a financial adviser to the mega-rich and occasional public speaker — the only mentions of Aziz in the media in recent times are linked either to the pursuit of Musharraf in Pakistani courts or flattering press releases announcing yet another obscure award or company directorship for Aziz.

“He’s a busy man. He’s on many boards, like the Blackstone Group, and he travels a lot, advising, sitting on boards, giving talks and lectures,” said Humayun Gauhar, who describes himself as a friend of both Aziz and Musharraf. “He’s just keeping a low profile as far as the local media is concerned because of his other interests. But he keeps a very, very close eye on Pakistan still.”

Another close friend of Aziz who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “He advises the Arab sheikhs and is also close to some leaders of Malaysia. He’s also an invisible adviser to many Pakistani IFIs and head hunts and provides other services to them without any charge.”

According to a former Musharraf adviser who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, Aziz and Musharraf have long since drifted apart, though Aziz did meet the former president twice before his return to Pakistan this year and advised him against returning.

“Aziz was a banker, he saw his chance and took it,” the former Musharraf adviser said of the beginnings of the Musharraf-Aziz relationship. “Now he’s trying to get close to Nawaz Sharif again.”

Where Aziz saw an opportunity like no other during the Musharraf era, the army chief-cum-president saw simply a lieutenant there to do his bidding. In his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, Musharraf baldly describes Aziz inheriting the prime ministership from Zafarullah Jamali in 2004 thus: “I did not discuss any of this with Shaukat Aziz. He was simply presented with a fait accompli.”

And in the chapter ‘Kick-starting the economy’, Musharraf does not even name his finance minister — Aziz held the post from 1999 to 2004 — who projected himself as the architect of what eventually became the economic bubble that burst in 2007-2008.

Humayun Gauhar explained the origins of the relationship between the two men: “On the day Musharraf took over, he didn’t know Aziz. Shaukat was found in New York by the army team tasked with finding people. I don’t think they ever became close friends. It was a relationship of boss and subordinate.”

The Aziz confidant speaking on condition of anonymity said of the Musharraf-Aziz relationship today, “The chill between No 1 and his No 2 has grown over the last few months, the last four or five in particular. Musharraf feels betrayed by the people who he felt should have stood by him. But they are both gentlemen and don’t talk about it publicly.”

Gauhar though explained the tensions differently, “Look, I have to be fair to both of them. Musharraf may think it wasn’t him alone doing all that stuff and Shaukat saying that would give (Musharraf) some mileage now. But you can’t blame the other guy so much either. A banker has his own compulsions and make-up. He may be thinking, ‘Here I’m being dragged into a treason case.’”

Gauhar insisted that while Musharraf may have expected more support recently from his former political allies and the technocrats he catapulted to prominence, the former president is also realistic. “It is what it is. He knows how politics works and that technocrats have no ship, so that can’t really be said to jump from it when things turn bad,” Gauhar said.

As for Aziz, he has no plans to return to Pakistan or get involved in frontline politics again. “He loves it, keeping tabs, knowing who is putting his money where, staying up to date with all the gossip. But he’s not coming back,” Aziz’s close friend said.

Never mind if Aziz former boss is in a world of trouble and could use all the support he can get.