Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The Rise & Rise of an Ambitious Banker
Sorry I’ve been away for a while but unfortunately even Bloggers have to make a living.
There is so much percolating right now – ‘a London-based ‘charter of democracy’, a panicked regime, sugar and cement scams, and the rising spectre of rampantly increasing poverty.
Rather than go into any of these issues right now I think it is time to relate a particularly choice story.
In the heady days after Musharraf’s coup d’etat in October 1999 among the scores of ambitious hopefuls there was an enthusiastic scramble for government positions. The routes they chose to pursue their dreams were several; one of these happened to be through a local entrepreneur who was Musharraf’s first cousin.
Within days of the military takeover the Cousin was approached by two businessmen – one of whom I shall call the ‘Hamburgler’ (as he was then a local franchisee of a well-known international fast food chain) and the other, an infamous ex-citibanker known for being involved in several corrupt and shady transactions, who shall be simply referred to as ‘Mota’ (or Fatty).
These two told the Cousin that they had the perfect minister of Finance for Musharraf’s regime.
‘Who?’ asked the Cousin.
‘Why, none other than Shaukat Aziz of Citibank and New York fame!’ the Hamburgler and Mota replied in unison. ‘But’, they added, ‘he will only come to Pakistan if he is guaranteed the job’.
‘Well’, said the Cousin, ‘I’m in no position to guarantee anything, but I can arrange all the meetings in Islamabad if he is really interested’.
Whereupon Mota picked up his mobile telephone, dialled New York and spoke to Shaukat Aziz. ‘He’ll happily come but on two conditions’, he told the Cousin, ‘The first condition is that no one knows about his visit to Islamabad and the second is that his passport is not stamped on arrival by immigration officials’.
The Cousin informed Mota that these conditions weren’t much of a problem. After a brief chat on the phone Mota announced ‘He is flying in this Saturday’.
According to my reputable source Shaukat Aziz casually left work headed for JFK Airport and quietly slipped on a flight to Pakistan just carrying a briefcase. He wanted no one to know of his movements.
At Islamabad Airport Aziz was met by the troika (the Cousin, the Hamburgler and the Mota) and whisked off the tarmac without anyone stamping his passport thus leaving no documentary trail of his visit. He was taken to the Pearl Continental Hotel in Rawalpindi as it was feared he might be more easily recognised at the Marriot in Islamabad.
Once he got into his hotel room Aziz quickly stripped to his vest and underpants as he didn’t want to crease his clothes further in preparation for his all-important meetings – the furtive nature of his trip hadn’t allowed him the luxury of bringing a spare suit with him. Excited by future possibilities he volubly promised to appoint Mota president of National Bank of Pakistan at his very first opportunity as the new minister of Finance.
Once the four of them settled down and made themselves comfortable, the Cousin attempted to telephone his relative only to learn that Musharraf was not available as he was attending a Corps Commanders’ meeting. The afternoon turned to evening and the evening soon turned into night, Musharraf continued to remain unavailable. A degree of panic set in as Aziz had to return to New York the very next day and time was at a premium. Bathed in a sheen of nervous sweat the Aziz, dressed as he was in his underpants, promised the National Bank job twice more to his friend, though a shade less confidently as the hours began ticking away.
Sometime late that evening the Cousin finally managed to speak with Musharraf. The General made it clear that he had better things to do on a Saturday night than meet with the Citibanker, even if he had flown in all the way from New York. However, he said, he would arrange for Aziz to be interviewed the next day by a panel of officials at the Army GHQ. Later a time was confirmed for the Sunday morning meeting.
The strange nature of the circumstances had by now sapped Aziz’s self-confidence and he implored the Cousin to escort him to the GHQ. Aziz made it clear that he didn’t wish to undertake a journey into the Khaki heartland all alone. And so on a cool October Sunday morning the Cousin drove our would-be minister to the GHQ. The panel consisted of the bureaucrat Tariq Aziz and a couple of senior generals.
The generals seemed disgruntled at being ordered into office on a Sunday morning when they could have been at golf or whatever Lieutenant-Generals like to do in their leisure time. The interview did not go all that well. Much to Shaukat Aziz’s discomfort he was asked some questions which are normally enquired of entry-level trainees – ‘What are your hobbies?’ and similar trivial nonsense.
Aziz left the interview feeling very dejected and told the Cousin how he felt. The Cousin decided to shift into higher gear and drove straight to the Army Chief’s house and being a close relative was instantly allowed into the residence with the New York-based Citibanker following in tow.
Musharraf was shaving himself at the time and when he had finished he walked into the reception room looking irritated by this unexpected Sunday morning interruption. While the Cousin managed to smooth things over, Musharraf briskly informed Shaukat Aziz that he had already offered the job of Finance Minister to Syed Babar Ali, the highly regarded Lahori businessman and there was already another alternative if Babar Ali declined - so Aziz would be in the remote no. 3 reserve slot for the job. Seeing the look of disappointment on Aziz’s face Musharraf then offered him the relatively junior Minister of Commerce’s job. Shaukat Aziz eagerly accepted the offer without any trace of hesitation. Having struck a cherished deal and he headed off to the airport to catch his flight to New York.
As both Syed Babar Ali and his alternative unexpectedly declined the Finance Minister’s job, Shaukat Aziz’s dream came true and a few weeks later in November 1999 he took oath as the Finance minister (instead of the offered post of Commerce minister).
Within a short time the Cousin fell foul of Musharraf’s wife for some alleged private misdemeanour and was thus rendered persona non grata at his cousin's residence.
The sleazy Mota never got the promised job as president of National Bank of Pakistan but he remains a close confidante of Shaukat Aziz and meets with him regularly. He still retains his childhood ambition of becoming the chairman of PIA. Who knows maybe Aziz still might fix it for his pal Mota one of these days?
And yes, in June 2004 Shaukat Aziz did get elevated to the position of ‘prime minister’ of Pakistan.