Indians don’t realise how exceptional they are in never even thinking about the army when discussing politics. In many developing nations, the army casts a long shadow on politics even when it does not rule directly. Pakistan is a classic example.
Fakir S Aijazuddin has written a slim volume From a Minister’s Personal Journal about his brief tenure as a minister for culture and tourism in Pakistan’s state government of Punjab from November 2007 to April 2008. The book touches on the rise and fall of Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and the rise and fall of Asif Ali Zardari.
It relates, with wit and humour, the author’s experiences in negotiating the army and bureaucracy as a minister, his one success being the establishment of the Lahore City Heritage Museum. Above all, it gives deep insights into how the elite and army rule Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army has always been contemptuous of politicians. It prides itself as an efficient force in a country ruined by inefficient, undisciplined politicians. To prove they were not just self-serving autocrats, Pakistani generals sought to appoint the best and brightest from civil society as ministers (though some said no). It tapped the World Bank, private sector, academia, media and the civilian elite in general. It also tapped Aijazuddin – an educationist, art historian, author, newspaper columnist and corporate honcho.
In India, there is a clear distinction between civil society and politicians. Not so in Pakistan. Aijazuddin notes the tradition of former World Bank Pakistanis becoming finance ministers: Mahbubul Haq in 1988, Shahid Husain in 1974 and Shahid Javed Burki in 1996. Indeed, in 1993, Moeen Qureshi, former vice-president of the World Bank, became Prime Minister.
In India, by contrast, persons from the World Bank or IMF are expected to serve a stint in a lower capacity to get rid of the “Washington taint” before getting a top Indian post (examples include Raghuram Rajan, Shankar Acharya and Bimal Jalan).
Crowning Glory for the Elite
Musharraf’s choice for finance minister was Shaukat Aziz, executive VP of Citibank. Many other Cabinet posts went to the civilian elite such as Razak Dawood, businessman and rector of Lahore’s University of Management Sciences; Abdul Sattar, ex-diplomat; and Usman Aminuddin, ex-CEO of Shell, Pakistan.
Aijazuddin was first approached in 1999 after Musharraf took over. Portfolios were discussed, and he said he would like to head the Privatisation Commission. Instead, he was offered the Board of Investment, which in Benazir’s earlier regime had been Zardari’s vehicle for extracting bribes (he was called Mr Ten Percent). It is impossible to imagine a non-political civilian in India being able to haggle about a ministerial post.
Aijazuddin refused the offer. He says he is not clear why he said no: maybe his own arrogance, or pique at being offered only minister of state status, or doubts about Musharraf’s longevity. A second unsolicited offer came his way in 2007, this time as a minister of culture and tourism in the state government of Punjab.
He consulted friends, one of whom made the remarkable statement, “Take the ministership. It will look good on your CV, for one thing. Also, they need you. And don’t forget – you will never get such a post in a democratic set up.”
The best passage in the book is Aijazuddin’s exchange with General Aziz. Aijazuddin asks, “Why do you assume that a Pakistani in uniform is better qualified to improve the country than a Pakistani out of uniform?” The General replies, “Because they are more efficient. They are more disciplined.”
No Army Copyright
Aijazuddin responds, “I’m in the private sector. I’m running an investment bank. If we are not efficient, we cannot survive. No one who runs my organisation can afford to be inefficient. They would either become bankrupt or have to close down. So, efficiency is not the factor. Forgive me for saying I do not believe it to be the prerogative of the Pakistan Army.
“Now, so far as discipline is concerned, if I was to ask one of my bank employees to jump off the roof of a 10-storey building, before doing so, he would ask me a host of questions. Is it in my job description? Am I insured? Will my family receive compensation in the event of my disability or death? I would be bound to satisfy him before he would take that leap.
Rule of the Baton
“But when you order your soldier to stand in the line of an enemy bullet, either that bullet will get him or yours will – for disobedience. So, General, it is not a matter of efficiency or discipline. It’s a matter of obedience.
“And, General, you will find that when you give orders to civilians, you will wonder why they do not carry them out instantly. And that will be the beginning of the end for you as a government.”
There could scarcely be a more masterful destruction of the claim of generals that army rule is justified since it ensures efficiency and discipline. This helps explain why army rule keeps failing, not just in Pakistan but across the world.