Jun 072008

By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: Tariq Aziz is not prepared to abandon his college friend, beleaguered President Musharraf, at a time when the retired general is having the worst crisis of his post military career.

Aziz, the man who engineered the major political moves for Musharraf during the last eight years and continues to do so even now, is media shy but he does open his heart at least before his friends and acquaintances.

Generally seen as a detested henchman of Musharraf, Aziz’s perception is however different for those who claim to be close to him. He asks his acquaintances why he should leave the president when all the courtiers have left him, though he does not agree with the retired general at times.

Many think that for him his friendship with Musharraf, once the most powerful person in Pakistan but today the most unpopular, is more important than the greater interests of this country and the people.

His critics, whose number is high, see him siding with the adamant president, who does not want to leave the stage despite a clear mandate given by the people against him in the Feb elections. However, he believes it would be immoral on his part to leave the retired general when he is vulnerable.

He has a lot of undisclosed things to share. And he has his own justifications and reasons for all that has been associated with him. One of Aziz’s acquaintances, whose word is credible, says that Tariq Aziz was recently asked by him if he did not think that Musharraf should quit for the political stability of the country. Aziz responded, as quoted by the source, “What do you think, I don’t tell him what is in his best interest and in the interest of the people?”

Aziz dispels the impression that the president always adheres to his advice. “I might have given 10,000 advices but the president would have paid attention to only a 100 or a 150,” the source quoted the man, who during the last eight years has been seen as the kingmaker, saying.

His friends claim that Tariq Aziz was opposed to Musharraf’s referendum. He was not consulted on the March 9, 2007 misadventure. He was opposed to the Nov 3 second coup. But despite his opposition to such moves, he practically only does what he is assigned to, no matter even if it goes against his convictions.

“I wanted to leave the president’s team in 2000, I also requested General Musharraf to let me go but it never happened,” a friend of Aziz told this correspondent and claimed that the other day he was shown by Aziz a letter written to this top aide of Musharraf by his father in 2000, asking him not to leave the president.

Friends of Aziz claim that he has been given tough time by fellow generals of Musharraf during the early years of his coup but the top general continued to value his friendship. Tariq Aziz has been offered quite a few lucrative posts, including that of governor Punjab, but he was more comfortable in backdoor wheeling dealing.He, however, really feels uncomfortable when termed as a kingmaker or the agent of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.

Another acquaintance of Aziz recalled him saying a few years back, “I used the Chaudhrys’ political clout for Musharraf’s political gains.” The source claimed that Aziz also admitted that the Pakistan Muslim League-Q was created as the third political force to ensure that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto stayed out of power.

All politicians and political analysts who have been meeting the president after his October 12, 1999 military takeover, were telling him that creating the third political force would be an arduous task if not an impossible mission. But Aziz, the source said, promised to do the miracle for Musharraf and to ensure that the general’s economic and reforms agenda would continue.

He was looking for a resourceful, well-connected and influential political family that could match the Sharifs and the Bhuttos if given the establishment’s support. The Chaudhrys of Gujrat, who also happen to be old friends of Aziz, were the suitable choice. Aziz convinced the president to bet on the Chaudhrys. He approached them and they hesitatingly agreed to play the set game of politics.

Tariq Aziz was assigned by Musharraf to deal with political matters on his behalf. He started visiting all parts of the country but concentrated on the Punjab to win maximum number of political leaders for the PML-Q.

His magic worked in the 2002 elections but not in 2008. In 2002, the president and his men were sure of the Kings Party’s victory and so was their calculation about the 2008 elections. But the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif turned things topsy-turvy for the manipulators, including Tariq Aziz.

It was Tariq Aziz’s old association with Rehman Malik that paved the way for the return of Benazir Bhutto after her deal with Musharraf in 2007, the latter events that unfolded were simply out of the presidency’s control.

In the changed scenario after the Feb elections, Tariq Aziz was facing a much greater challenge of making a coalition between the PPP and the PML-Q but it did not happen. This situation left the Chaudhrys of Gujrat irrelevant for the president and Aziz, at least politically if not otherwise.

Tariq Aziz, according to these friends, also played a pivotal role in convincing the president before the 2002 elections to give the MQM a room to stage a comeback in the country’s mainstream politics.

But now for once the relaxed Aziz is said to be really fed up with the extremely-hectic routine of the last few years and particularly what has been shaking the presidency after March 9, 2007.

He is not so regular, as he used to be in the past, in playing bridge with his friends in the Islamabad Club. He is interested in horse races too but last year’s mess has considerably diverted his attention from this too. Interestingly, he considers betting on horse races Islamic.

Courtesy: The News, 7/6/2008

 Posted by at 6:54 am

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