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.
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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’.
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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.

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Subsequent events:

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.



20 comments:

DrPak said...

Where did you get this story from? Is it based on facts or are you just making stuff up?

mAn[S]o0r said...

yea.. i'd like to know that too..

Other than that, it was very nicely narrated! Keep it up!

Onlooker said...

'The Cousin','The Hamburgler' and 'Mota' are not at all ficticious but real and living people. An intelligent Google search will probably establish their identities for those interested to find out who they are.

The original source for this story was obviously a member of the Troika who witnessed everything at first hand. And yes, he has been quite talkative among his circle of friends.

I think if you read the story carefully it becomes pretty obvious which of the three he happens to be.

DrPak said...

Could you provide us with some other sources who have also reported this story? Or are we to take your and "someone from the troika"'s word for it? Really, this is the only time I've heard a story like this, and it contradicts everything I've read about Shaukat Aziz's appointment to the post.

Besides, how likely do you think it is that Musharraf would just appoint someone his cousin brought to the all-important role of Finance Minister. The economy was near collapse back in 2000, and it's unlikely he would assign someone to that crucial role just because his cousin brought someone in - especially when you said his formal "interview" was done by Generals who asked him what his hobbies were.

I'm sorry man, your story has too many holes in it.

SA took off his clothes so they wouldn't be wrinkled? Couldn't he have packed at least a spare shirt and trousers in his briefcase? Couldn't this man, who is a millionaire, send someone out with 100 dollars worth of rupees to buy him some clothes? Do you think the top man of Citibank is going to lie around half naked while waiting for his interview? Don't you think the 14 hour flight from the US would have wrinkled his clothes beyond repair anyway? And if he wanted to wear the same clothes, why not just ask the hotel personell to iron them pronto before he was to leave, instead of stripping to his undergarments.

And why the big secret? Why did SA go to such length to hide that he wanted the job? He was making millions at Citibank. Even if he wanted the job that bad, I doubt he'd want to keep it such a secret. To what point and purpose exactly?

I really hope you can back up your story. I'm a regular vistor of this blog, and I would be dissapointed to find out you readily believe and put up fanastic stories such as these because "someone of the troika" told you so.

Onlooker said...

Drpak

Obviously you don't believe the story.
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You said: "Really, this is the only time I've heard a story like this, and it contradicts everything I've read about Shaukat Aziz's appointment to the post."

In Pakistan often the truth behind publicised stories emerges several decades later (when people write their memoirs or choose to confide concealed realities to historians).

18 years ago an all-powerful Army Chief/President was blown up in the air and yet all we still have is conjecture and differing versions of blame depending on our world view. Some still blame our allies the US, others the KGB or India and notably on one occasion the dictator’s son came on record and directly blamed his father’s generals (though it appeared in Dawn it is all deniable now of course).

As a result I often don't believe what I read in newspapers, particularly from official sources.
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You said: "Could you provide us with some other sources who have also reported this story? Or are we to take your and "someone from the troika"'s word for it?"

While there can be no comparisons in magnitude but when Berstein and Woodward broke the Watergate story no one asked them 'to provide them with some other sources who have also reported this story?' 'Deepthroat' remained their confidential source and only source and the story eventually toppled a US president.

Clearly no one is planning to topple Shaukat Aziz here but this story is not new but has been much discussed with much amusement in certain circles for many months now.
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You said: "SA took off his clothes so they wouldn't be wrinkled? Couldn't he have packed at least a spare shirt and trousers in his briefcase? Couldn't this man, who is a millionaire, send someone out with 100 dollars worth of rupees to buy him some clothes? Do you think the top man of Citibank is going to lie around half naked while waiting for his interview? Don't you think the 14 hour flight from the US would have wrinkled his clothes beyond repair anyway? And if he wanted to wear the same clothes, why not just ask the hotel personell to iron them pronto before he was to leave, instead of stripping to his undergarments."

Funnily enough these were the points I myself raised when I was told the story over a year ago. The reply was that SA was secretive about the trip and didn’t wish to be seen with a suitcase in New York in case he was spotted.

I am sure SA carried a spare shirt but the answer as to why he didn’t have his suit ironed at the hotel was because he could have been called at anytime at a moment’s notice for a meeting. Say the Cousin got through to Musharraf on the first call and was told to appear within minutes – a delay caused by a suit being ironed would’ve sounded a bit pathetic to any general.
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You said: "And why the big secret?"

Well I guess everyone has an ego. Say if Shaukat Aziz had publicly travelled to Islamabad and returned to NY jobless, it would have been very embarrassing for him. If you recall it was beyond the Cousin’s power to make any commitments about any job, after all he was only a ‘cousin’ and a civilian.
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You said: "I'm sorry man, your story has too many holes in it."

Of course you are perfectly entitled to your disbelief. All I can say is that seven years later both the ‘Hamburgler’ and ‘Mota’ remain close associates of SA and have access to him at all times despite the security and protocol that surrounds serving PMs. To my knowledge this story has been repeated in front of these two, and instead of denying it they get extremely embarrassed and duck for nearest cover.
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In final I just wanted to state that I don’t make up stories like these from thin air.

DrPak said...

______________________________
Drpak Obviously you don't believe the story."
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No, that's not the case at all. I'm quite willing to accept something as being true if there is some credibility to it.
_________________________________
"While there can be no comparisons in magnitude but when Berstein and Woodward broke the Watergate story no one asked them 'to provide them with some other sources who have also reported this story?' 'Deepthroat' remained their confidential source and only source and the story eventually toppled a US president."
---------------------------------

Yes, but those two were trusted reporters working for a reputable newspaper. They were staking their careers on that story. You on the other hand are an anonymous blogger who has nothing to lose. You really draw a comparison here I'm afraid.

_____________________________
Funnily enough these were the points I myself raised when I was told the story over a year ago. The reply was that SA was secretive about the trip and didn’t wish to be seen with a suitcase in New York in case he was spotted.
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Don't you think it would be MORE suspicious if he was seen in the airport with absolutely no personal effects whatsoever? If he was seen by someone walking through the airport, he could easily have said he was flying to another city within the US. No one would think it suspicious for him to have at least one change of clothes, or a spare suit. Be reasonable, how can not having a change of clothes give him any added credibility.

If he was meeting Musharraf, and lobbying for the post of finance minister, surely he would want to look respectable. He knew it would be a 12+ hour flight, perhaps a lot longer. I'm sure he was fully aware how wrinkled and unkempt his clothes would get after such a long journey. Wouldn't he have the sense to get himself a decent change of clothes? You seem to believe Shaukat Aziz is a total idiot. Even I would have that much sense.

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I am sure SA carried a spare shirt but the answer as to why he didn’t
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If there was space for a shirt, surely there was space for pants too. If not, he could have asked someone to go out and get him some. He certainly isn't a poor man
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Well I guess everyone has an ego. Say if Shaukat Aziz had publicly
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He could easily have made some excuse for his visit to Pakistan. He was seeing a sick friend, some family member died, etc...etc... There are a million and one excuses he could have made.

You also haven't answered this point of mine:

Besides, how likely do you think it is that Musharraf would just appoint someone his cousin brought to the all-important role of Finance Minister. The economy was near collapse back in 2000, and it's unlikely he would assign someone to that crucial role just because his cousin brought someone in - especially when you said his formal "interview" was done by Generals who asked him what his hobbies were.

Pakman said...

Loved the story dude!

An uncle of mine who used to be a citibank colleague of Shaukat Aziz mentioned that Shortcut used to swoop into Islamabad from CitiNY for twenty-four hours just to attend a wedding of an important general’s son and suchlike. The man already had his zillions but his antenna was hotwired for all possibilities of greater fame, power and fortune. And I also heard not only did he keep in the good books of many generals but became a close pal of Asif Zardari when Benazir was PM - like they would party together (cool!).

Look if you want to get ahead you gotta network, schmooze (and kiss ass when you have to). So what if Shaukat Aziz did all that, he did become Minister of Finance and eventually PM didn’t he? As that old song goes “if you can make it in NY, you can make it anywhere”. The man has proved it!

We ought to be proud of Shaukat Aziz. The thing is he nailed the job that he wanted and much more. It’s the kind of thing they should teach at my current US business school (but the schmucks don’t!).

Onlooker said...

drpak

1st Point - From experience let me tell you international bankers often move around with carry on baggage only, saves hanging around waiting around for checked luggage. In this case SA did obviously did not want to hang around Islamabad airport.

Look does it matter if he sat around in his underpants - the others were males. (One of them obviously found it hilarious hence the story). Point is anyone can goof up, perhaps SA was expecting to be interviewed straight upon arrival - who knows?

Anyway if it makes you feel better then let us imagine that it was otherwise and that he sat there waiting in a freshly pressed Brioni suit, Turnbull & Asser shirt, Hermes tie and Prada lace-ups.

2nd Point - Yes, due to Atomic bomb tests Pakistan had become an international pariah state and the economy had gone down the tube. It was 9/11 and the resultant US 'forgiveness' that solved most of our serious financial problems and not just the brilliance of SA. Besides Syed Barbar Ali might have done an equally good job given the circumstances.

3rd Point - Fortunately not having been interviewed by an Armyman for a job I really don't know how good/bad there interviewing skills are (particularly on a golfing day). Somehow I don't think it is part of their training at the Quetta Staff College.

DrPak, I hope you don't mind but I think I've said all I possibly can on this topic.
All the best!

________________________

Pakman

Are you seriously for real? (or is this simply a good leg-pulling excercise on your part?)

DrPak said...

You can't just delete the unbelievable detail that he was sitting around in his underwear in order not to wrinkle clothes he had already been wearing for at least half a day while traveling from another continent to make your story more credible. If one aspect of the story does not hold up, why should any of the rest be true, especially given the fantastic nature of this story? It just doesn’t add up. She could have easily carried a pant and shirt in a carry-on bag. He could have easily bought clothes for himself once he landed and had to wait. He could have paid hotel staff to come and iron the clothes right there in his room. Heck, he could have sent someone to go buy his clothes. And how could Musharraf give such an incredibly important job to a man he never met before?

What makes you think your friends are telling you the truth? Couldn't they be making all this up just to seem important? You yourself describe them as opportunistic and given to cronyism. That in itself makes me suspicious of a story they tell which makes them look like kingmakers. If you can believe SA is promogulating a big lie about how he was asked personally by Musharraf to come and take up the role of finance minister, why can't you believe your two friends are lying to make themselves look like kingmakers?

I think you should be less naive and objectively weigh the facts of a certain account. Certainly, the official version of how SA got the job sounds a lot more credible than this story. Not every story that makes our leaders look like power-hungry liars is true you know.

Anonymous said...

I am not disinclined to believe the story, but I think there is an embellishment factor here. If you deflate it by 1.5 or 2, it seems plausible. The biggest question is how Musharraf would give a plum cabinet ministry to someone he met for the first time in an "unexpected Sunday morning interruption". No way. Especially because there are always scores of people jockeying for a cabinet position.

The truth probably is that Shaukat had already been under consideration for the post and he made the trip in a last ditch attempt to sway Musharraf's decision. Unsuccessfully, as it turns out, if not for fate.

This whole suit/underpants issue is immaterial IMO.

As drpak pointed out, the storyteller may be claiming to be a kingmaker to highten his own power. it's a favourite pastime of those from the subcontinent - claiming to be "in" with the rich and powerful. it's like in the 70s and 80s, almost anyone and everyone connected to the Bombay film industry used to claim that they made Amitabh Bachchan a superstar, even those who had met him just once. it's probably because connections matter so much over there, who you know is far more important than what you know.

Onlooker said...

Anonymous

What you may have possibly overlooked were the realities on the ground in October 1999. There was this guy who had smoked (cigarettes) himself almost silly as his plane circled over Pakistan not knowing whether he would have a job (or a life) the very next day. If you had seen him nervous and sweaty trying to justify the army takeover at 2 am early next morning you would have realised the guy was still desperately trying to come to terms to with what had taken place.

His cousin had probably been approached within a day or two after the event (after all that is how things happen in Pakistan when guys are looking for the main chance). Most probably our commando General had well heard of the well-respected Lahori Syed Barbar Ali and much less so of some banker in New York, after all that is the Pakistan army way, though non-army urbanites would possibly relentlessly argue to the contrary. Reality is most army chappies have little to do with Citibank or any other urban multinational hierarchical outlooks.

Truth, according to me, lies in the minor details; the offer of the presidency of the National Bank of Pakistan, the sitting in the underpants, the unstamped passport, etc. make the story eminently plausible.

Mush’s cousin was, as many people know, a major player in the early days of the army coup. He didn’t need to embellish anything. And bye the bye, Shaukat Aziz was well known for seeking recognition in his home country, where apart from the minuscule Karachi elite (along with a few in Lahore) no one - say the Jang and Nawai-e-Waqt readers - had really heard of him.

So you have a guy elevated to a position way beyond his competence and seeking advice he opts for the tried and tested. It takes an intellect to realise the enormity of a task that confronts a national leader; unfortunately for Pakistan our Kargill-hero is still ‘proudly’ known to operate simply on gut reactions.

Finally I know both ‘The Hamburgler’ and the ‘Mota’. They still have not denied their role in Aziz’s elevation. As for the underpants episode, it is so hilariously implausible that it has to be for real. The man was so desperate for the job that he momentarily goofed.

maverick said...

>> The source was a member of the trio, who talks a lot among friends.

Or it is someone at GHQ. Someone had to ensure that the passport was not stamped right?

Anonymous said...

"What you may have possibly overlooked were the realities on the ground in October 1999. There was this guy who had smoked (cigarettes) himself almost silly as his plane circled over Pakistan not knowing whether he would have a job (or a life) the very next day"

This is beside the point here, but it is puzzling why wouldn't Nawaz Sharif let the plane land? If I am not mistaken, it was a passenger plane with many passengers.

(not the same anonymous as above)

Onlooker said...

Anonymous2

You asked: Why the once-future-Amir-ul-Momineen wouldn't let the plane land?

Well our the tycoon-PM was scared out of his wits that having legally sacked Musharraf, the angry ex-Army Chief would retaliate by overthrowing him.

Ordinary civilians (such as those on the airplane)have never really mattered to the power players of Pakistan. Thanks to the Yanks we now have a word for the end result of such an attitude - 'collateral damage'.

alimonline said...

It is amazing the misinformation on Shaukat Aziz. I read somewhere on this blog that he made $70 million in stock options as a Exec VP of Citibank. If he was EVP of Citibank you could find out about him on the SEC website wwwe.sec.gov under citibank annual reports, you cant find the guy, so he was a mid level person at the corp. who makes himself out to be someting he is not. Further, Mr. Aziz is just an idiot follower of Musharaf a dictator who will be out of a job when the democrats takeover congress inthe US. Talking about the dictator, he has a fake opposition inthe mullahs who could not win an election if their life depended on it. This guy supports the terrorists and lies to the America

alimonline said...

This ambitious banker is a liar and an thief. No wonder he joined other theifs to steal the rest from an impoverished nation of Pakistan, which in my opinion will be out of business in the next few years.

How about Baluchistan, i guess they will be getting a new country soon

syed said...

If I am not mistaken are you by any chance referring to SHAUKAT TARIN as Mota ?

Onlooker said...

No 'Mota' is not Shaukat Tareen!

'Mota' was in fact an executive that Citibank actually forced into retirement.

While my blog "The Rise & Rise of an Ambitious Banker" stems from what Mush's cousin has been relating to his friends, here for the sake of fair play is Shaukat Aziz's version:
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Aziz was just absorbing the piece of news [of the Army Coup] when he got a call from Islamabad. It was Pakistan's new ruler. Aziz took the call warily. Musharraf was direct, civil and polite. "Pakistan needs your advice," he said to Aziz, who responded by saying he was to visit Islamabad next month and would be happy to call on the General. "No, it has to be this weekend," said Musharraf. So Aziz set off on a 20-hour trip to Pakistan, and met Musharraf at the General Head Quarters -- the infamous GHQ -- that he visited for the first time.

He returned to New York to consult his employers and his family on an offer it would have been hard for any Pakistani to refuse.
(from:http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/22spec.htm)
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Now it is up to the readers to choose which version to believe.

Teeth Maestro said...

I choose to place this comment long after these heated discussions above here have taken place, but I wanted to do it for the sake of record.

I personally have talked to the 'Hamburgler' mentioned in this story and he attests to the fact that this is true to a great extent, though I did not make him read this story word for word to verify the facts but he was in approval of the events generally in the order and fashion as described, but his narration was a little more animated and funny

I assure you this was still one of his less amusing stories, others were far more interesting showing the mentality of our so-called educated rulers

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