Musharraf's New Right-Hand Man

Pakistan's President faces plenty of potential problems. The newly sworn-in Prime Minister, however, is firmly in the general's camp

When Pakistan's new Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali stood beside President Pervez Musharraf to take the oath of office on Nov. 21, he looked more like a relaxed civil servant than the country's new political leader. Small wonder. Jamali's narrow electoral victory means that General Musharraf's policies will likely continue under the new regime.

Jamali, 60, who hails from the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League, is a seasoned politician, having served as a former senator and chief minister of the western province of Baluchistan. But he's widely regarded by Pakistani political analysts as a weak Prime Minister, a man who'll do the bidding of a strong President. In his inaugural speech, Jamali pledged to stay the course of the previous government. Nothing could have pleased Musharraf more.

Shaukat Aziz, the ex-Citibank executive who has been Finance Minister since Musharraf's 1999 coup, will continue in that role under Jamali. That means the process of economic reforms initiated three years ago -- which resulted in a resumption of aid from the International Monetary Fund and a subsequent rescheduling of debt -- won't be interrupted, as many business leaders had feared.


  It's also likely that Musharraf's alignment with the West against al Qaeda will continue, despite a strong showing by the Muteheda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of religious parties opposed to U.S. intervention in the region, in the Oct. 10 election.

Musharraf's team isn't home free yet. Although the conservative MMA and the more liberal Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, don't agree on most issues, they form a formidable opposition coalition in Parliament. Together, they received 47% of the vote in October, and they'll be openly critical of Jamali's government if it's unable to spur economic growth.

Indeed, even in the war on terrorism, General Musharraf will no longer enjoy blanket powers. He'll face loud protests from the MMA, which governs in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, any time the military stages mass arrests of alleged al Qaeda sympathizers, events that have become commonplace since September 11. The big question: Will the MMA try to follow through on its campaign pledge to try to expel FBI officials from Pakistan?


  Still, Musharraf has plenty of cards left to play. The MMA, a fractious coalition of smaller religious groups, surprised everyone with an unexpectedly strong showing in the elections. Yet some from the smaller parties under the MMA umbrella are already grumbling. You can bet Musharraf and the Pakistani Establishment will try to take advantage of such cracks in the hope of breaking up the coalition.

Moreover, Musharraf managed to get the result he wanted without having to compromise his own position of power. He rebuffed efforts by the MMA to have him announce a date for his retirement as army chief. Those close to Musharraf say he wants a semidemocratic government, with the army's role institutionalized, as it is in Turkey.

In addition to cementing his own role with a five-year term as President and an open-ended job as head of the army, Musharraf also now has a Prime Minister who appears eager to continue his policies. So he isn't doing too badly for himself by any measure.

By Naween A. Mangi in Karachi

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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