Of Hawks and Doves

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | February 2021


For most pople, Sartaj Aziz needs no introduction. One of our most distinguished sons from the tribal north, Aziz’s star-studded career has included positions such as finance minister, foreign minister, long-term senator, and ones involving important work for the United Nations. Although he carefully and comprehensively outlines his perception of Pakistani history and governance dating from the sixties almost to the present day, that type of general outline is well-known to the average, educated Pakistani. This review therefore honours the image of Aziz as he is portrayed in his own words, and gives a sense of the man behind the titles. An astute historian and government servant, Niccolo Machiavelli, noted: ‘It is not titles that reflect honour on men but men on their titles.’ This is evident from a perusal of Aziz’s striking tome.

Hailing from Mardan—his birthplace—where his father held notable positions, such as tehsildar, Aziz comes from a highly respected Pakhtun family that values sound character and education over and above ambition. Although he lost his mother at a tender age, Aziz speaks with genuine affection and respect for his stepmother, who raised him and his sister as if they were her own. A life-altering meeting during a prize winning ceremony with the great M A Jinnah inspired the young man to devote his life to a career of public service. Instead of pursuing law (which his father ardently desired for him), Aziz entered the development sector, and by means of the civil service, cemented his early career. He was paramount, both nationally and internationally, in working in areas such as food and agriculture, but his undeniable financial acumen led him to serve as a remarkably competent finance minister, and his diplomatic skills (respected by the Indians, Chinese, Americans, and obviously Pakistanis) enabled him to serve the country’s foreign policy interests with dedication and a staunch display of ethics in his capacity as finance minister.

Perhaps his closest and most influential relationship was with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, but even others such as Muhammad Khan Junejo acknowledged (indeed just after a single meeting over dinner) that Aziz’s vision for the country’s betterment was both sincere and practical. His delineation of the clash between Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s rule-oriented mentality and Nawaz Sharif’s imperious autocratic attitude is especially intriguing and well-laid out. Although generally tactful, Aziz does not mince words when needed, stating that had Benazir not adopted a confrontational stance towards acquiring power in the Punjab (which was impossible for her, given Sharif’s popular political dominance in the province) her association with both Nawaz Sharif and his supporters would have been far more harmonious. He exhibits loyalty towards Sharif not simply because the latter recognized and fully utilized his potential but also because he provided a measure of stability to the country over the course of three terms, until he was besieged towards the tail-end of his career.

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