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Shaukat Aziz recalls how Sharif’s exile and Benazir’s NRO deals were struck

Shaukat Aziz recalls how Sharif’s exile and Benazir’s NRO deals were struck

KARACHI: Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz has revealed how the United States used its influence with then president Pervez Musharraf in saving Nawaz Sharif’s life and orchestrating a power-sharing deal between the general and Benazir Bhutto.

Apart from recalling the manner in which these decisions were made, he in his recently published book From Banking to the Thorny World of Politics has suggested that to ensure stability and better governance, the country should adopt the presidential form of government.

Mr Aziz, who has not set foot on Pakistani soil since relinquishing power, has avoided giving reasons for staying away from the country or for not taking an active part in the politics. Co-authored by journalist Anna Mikhailova, Mr Aziz in the book has largely boasted about his role as a successful international banker at the Citibank, as well the economic czar and prime minister under Gen Musharraf.

The book can hardly be described as an insider’s account as it fails to touch upon the controversies that surrounded the Musharraf-Aziz period, including the phase when the military ruler imposed emergency and sacked the Supreme Court chief justice.

It also fails to discuss Gen Musharraf’s controversial moves like the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti or the military operation against the militants of Lal Masjid. There are some though sketchy details of how and why Mr Sharif was pardoned and allowed to go into exile to Saudi Arabia, and the way Gen Musharraf struck a deal with Ms Bhutto, leading to the issuance of the controversial National Reco­nciliation Ordinance (NRO).

Perhaps the only original thought in the book is his advocacy for a presidential form of government which, he believes, can steer the country out of political and economic instability.

Sharif exile deal: Although a lot is known of the manner in which Mr Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, and other members of the family were exiled to Saudi Arabia, the account provided by Mr Aziz still makes an interesting read.

According to him, the first serious move to save Mr Sharif’s life when he was being tried by an antiterrorism court on terrorism and hijacking charges was made by the then US president, Bill Clinton, during his stopover in Pakistan.

During the meeting, which under Mr Clinton’s instructions was neither filmed nor photogra­phed, the US leader express­ed concern over Pakistan’s history of leaders meeting a tragic end.

‘Be very careful; something like this doesn’t happen. You must be able to look people in the eye’, President Clinton is quoted by Mr Aziz as telling Gen Musharraf.

And then he goes on to quote the military ruler as telling the US leader, ‘I am not a vindictive man and I hear what you are saying. Nawaz Sharif’s life will not be in danger’.

Mr Aziz says although President Clinton’s demeanour was friendly, “the official message of his trip was clear he wanted Sharif spared and permitted to leave the country”.

The ex-PM writes that less than a fortnight after President Clinton’s visit, Mr Sharif was found guilty of terrorism and hijacking and sentenced to life imprisonment. “Crucially, he was spared the death penalty.”

He then goes on to provide some insight into the role Saudi Arabia played in securing Mr Sharif’s release. One of the main players in negotiating the deal was Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafic Hariri, who at that time was living and working in Saudi Arabia.

On Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s instructions Rafic Hariri started the negotiations process for Mr Sharif’s release, and sent his son, Saad, to Pakistan to act as an interlocutor with Mr Sharif and sign an agreement between him and the government in Islamabad.

Mr Aziz writes that though Saad Hariri’s visits were always dubbed business trips, on arrival he used to straightaway travel to Attack Fort jail to see Nawaz Sharif. An interesting piece of information given by Mr Aziz is that Shujaat Azeem, who was the elder Hariri’s former pilot, would accompany him to meet the deposed premier. It’s little surprise that Mr Azeem was appointed Prime Minister Sharif’s adviser on aviation.

According to Mr Aziz’s account of the negotiated settlement, which included the signing of a pardon deal with Pakistan’s government, “Saudi Arabia and the United States were instrumental in saving Nawaz Sharif’s life and helping him leave Pakistan”.

Musharraf-Benazir deal: A negotiated settlement between Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto was far more complicated and required a long-drawn process, involving top-ranking US and British diplomats. According to Shaukat Aziz, the process remained dormant for quite some time but was given a jump-start when Condoleezza Rice took over as the US Secretary of State from Colin Powell. After much deliberation, the Americans suggested to Gen Musharraf that he may continue to remain the president, after stepping down as the army chief, with Benazir Bhutto as the prime minister. During this period the former US ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, was closely involved in the process. Mr Aziz writes, years later, Mr Crocker told him: ‘A military leadership could not have endured forever. We started the effort to bring Benazir Bhutto back and keep Musharraf as president. It might have worked, had she not been assassinated’.

An interesting bit of revelation in the book is that during the crucial first phase Gen Musha­rraf “kept negotiations a secret from his own government and would make diversions through the UAE, where she lived, on his way to other destinations”.

Mr Aziz goes on to write that their first meeting took place in January 2007 in one of the palaces in Abu Dhabi. Ms Bhutto was flown in by helicopter from Dubai. The one-on-one meeting went on for four and a half hours while their respective aides were outside.

Later on Gen Kayani, who was the ISI chief at the time, and Tariq Aziz took care of the negotiations from the government’s side and met Ms Bhutto. At the same time Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, sat down privately with Ms Bhutto several times in New York, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London. Serious talks were required because Ms Bhutto needed corruption charges against her and her supporters dismissed before she could return home. She also required the Constitution to be amended to allow her a third term as the prime minister.

“There was another dimension to the negotiations. Neither Bena­zir Bhutto nor Gen Musharraf wanted the third influential political figure in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, to be on the scene,” Mr Aziz writes. He quotes Mr Boucher as telling him: “One of the goals for them working out a deal was to keep Nawaz out. I think Musharraf put feelers out to the Saudis and said, `Keep a hold of Nawaz and don’t let him come to disrupt the transition’.”

In October 2007, just at the moment Ms Bhutto was planning to return, Mr Boucher fell sick. At this point, Condoleezza Rice bec­ame involved in the process. Mr Aziz quotes Mr Boucher as telling him, ‘Rice picked it up personally and talked about it with them. She said to Musharraf — basically, let her [Benazir] co­me back, even without an understanding. If you facilitate a return, you can both find a way to cooperate’.

After much back and forth and a series of interactions, including a nearly two-hour telephone call by Ms Rice to Ms Bhutto, and a major role played by the US Secretary of State in ironing out the differences between Gen Musharraf and the PPP leader, the power-sharing deal was announced, with the military ruler passing the controversial NRO to exonerate Ms Bhutto and her supporters of political and corruption charges, thus paving the way for her return to Pakistan.

Courtesy : Dawn News



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