By Amir Mateen
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari looks taller by readily giving away his powers through the 18th Amendment. But this may have been one of the smartest moves that he ever made.
Beneath this faÁade of a seemingly powerless Presidency lurks the most potent political and administrative machinery this country has ever seen. He has got twice the size of senior bureaucrats overseeing his invisible government than Musharraf had. The dictator was often accused of running the entire show from the Presidency and his prime ministerial troika was dubbed as a mere rubber stamp. But Musharraf only had four director generals of grade 20. Zardari’s administrative colossus has five additional secretaries of grade 21 (Zaid Zaman, Shahzad Arbab, Ishaq Lashari, Zafar Qadir and his press secretary Taimoor Azmat); the sixth slot vacated recently by Abdul Shafiq who got promoted as Secretary is to be filled; Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chauhana gets the equivalence of additional secretary as legal consultant; Additional Secretary Hassan Javed of the Foreign Office has been replaced by Director General, Farrukh Amil; and at the top is Secretary to the President, Asif Hayat. There is a team of baboos and finally, at the top of this pyramid sits a super babu.
The team of baboos runs the invisible government of Zardari where they get a soft copy of every important file — involving lucrative deals, leases, exemptions, quotas, awards of contracts, important transfers and postings — from every ministry, division, or corporation. A discreet system has been devised where a copy (called “soft” because it is not officially required and acknowledged) of every important file from every government department lands at the Presidency. Once it is approved at the Presidency, after the “deal” they say, the message is conveyed to the concerned department or ministry either on telephone or through a coded message like, say, a green “tick” mark.
A huge structure of government officials is maintained at the Presidency and nothing escapes them. The size of the Presidency is almost double the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The PM Secretariat has four additional secretaries of grade 21 and a recently promoted, out of turn, principal secretary, Nargis Sethi.
Nargis is the junior most official ever posted as principal secretary, which is considered as the pinnacle of bureaucracy. She serves the purpose as being so inexperienced and junior she cannot resist the mighty team of baboos in the Presidency. The reason for maintaining so many senior officials at the Presidency is that seniority brings access to a dedicated “green” telephone. They can simply call the ministries for the movement of “important” files up and down and convey the approval and disapproval of any project, transfer or contract. No questions asked; no proofs whatsoever.
Zardari has been smart enough to keep the team of baboos. Learning from their earlier experience, which resulted in them ending up in jails and exiles, they have tailored a system which will not leave a single proof of any irregularity this time around.
The team of baboos has organised his administrative mammoth so well that nothing gets done without it. The additional secretaries have been kept under the guise of administration, coordination, establishment, human development, infrastructure, foreign and legal affairs. Each official is actually given charge of a province along with a long list of divisions and projects. For instance, Additional Secretary Ishaque Lashari has to monitor the Sindh province and the Cultural Division, the Environment Division, the Education Division, HEC, the Food and Agriculture Division, the Health Division, the Overseas Pakistanis Division, the Housing and Works Division, the Human Rights Division, the Labour and Manpower Division, the Livestock and Dairy development Division, the Population Welfare Division and the list is endless. He ensures that not a single thing is approved in these divisions without a nod from the Presidency.
The 18th Amendment has taken away the powers Zardari could not use. He knew that he did not have the political strength to remove or change the chief of army staff; nor could he remove or change the chief justice as proved by events; and nor did he have the strength to dissolve the Parliament. And he also knew where he drew his power from and you know what? That invisible government stays-and is thriving.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, one must say, is “game” to this whole system. He maintains a faÁade of sometimes being “independent” and resisting the presidential overtures. But on the inside he lets Zardari run the government with occasional “chunks” from the booty thrown his way as well.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said he was not aware of the “invisible government” but confirmed the placement of all the government machinery at the Presidency. Babar being a straight and honest soul would not know of such mechanisms. He is not drawing any salary and is using his own car, fuel and even telephone. Many others like the president’s Political Secretary Rukhsana Bangash, Hisham Riaz (the son of the recently imprisoned FIA’s Ahmad Riaz Sheikh), Farahnaz Ispahani will also claim that they are not drawing any salary but they enjoy the perks of the Presidency with a relish. A battalion of “go-betweens” of the invisible government, named as unofficial advisors, hangs out permanently at the Presidency. The most important of them all, Dr Qayyum Soomro, is known to be the person “who gets things done.” The most sought after person in Pakistan, Soomro, a former jail doctor, had dedicated his life to bringing “biscuits and pastries” for the president’s guests. Zardari once scolded him for not serving me tomato sauce when I visited him at the courts. He is believed to have kept a visa of Afghanistan and a vehicle ready on the border to whisk him away from the “ECL eyes” if push comes to shove at some stage.
The “hangers-on” never leave the Presidency in the hope that they might attract the eyes or the ears of the president at any time of the day or night. They do not have offices in the Presidency but are looking for any chunks from the invisible government. Waqar Ali Khan, whose family has a way of getting into the Senate through “golden brief cases” is a bona fide “hanger-on.” Musharraf, despite his love for cronyism, did not make this one a minister. The credit goes to the “People’s Party” for making him part of the cabinet. He almost made it to the Finance Ministry. Imagine a cat guarding milk. The rest of the list of “hangers-on” is long, the most active among them being Abida Hussain’s daughter, Sughra Imam, Jamil Soomro, Mehrin Raja, Farzana Raja and Kamal Majidullah.
The biggest circus at the Presidency goes in the media section. The media is accustomed to having the good old Farhatullah around from the difficult years when his office did not even have proper chairs. Come power, a whole band of media handlers have jumped in. Farahnaz Ispahani watches the interest of her company, which the Haqqani couple claims they have disowned on paper, than of the President.
Dr Qayyum Soomro also arranges the president’s meetings with journalists, mostly with his own types though. Farzana and Fauzia also delve into media affairs. The team of baboos has brought in Taimoor Asmat as president’s press secretary. He is the same person that Pervaiz Elahi deputed for PPP’s vilification in the last election. Interestingly, he is obliging the same media company that was earlier banned for its malpractices. But this is the criterion that makes Zardari’s team shine out.
April 14, 2010