Late last month, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan re-issued an arrest warrant for Shaukat Aziz, the former Prime Minister, in connection with the killing of Akbar Bugti, the Baluch nationalist leader who died in 2006 during a military operation in the restless Baluchistan province.
Aziz was “requested” to show up at a hearing scheduled in Quetta on November 26. The principal defendant in the case, former President Pervez Musharraf (who ordered the crackdown that killed Bugti) remains at his residence in Islamabad on bail. Aziz served as Prime Minister under Musharraf from August 2004 to November 2007.
As for Aziz, now 64, he may not show up to face the music -- Pakistani media reported that he has been living abroad – principally in London, England -- since early 2008. According to the website of Millennium and Copthorne Hotels plc (LON: MLC), which owns and manages hotels around the world, Aziz serves as a non-executive director for the company.
Nonetheless, Aziz was part of one of the most unusual and bizarre incidents in the long and turbulent relationship between Pakistan and its biggest western ally, the United States. Aziz, trained as an economist and boasting a stellar career in international finance with Citibank, also served as Pakistan’s finance minister from October 1999 through the end of 2007. During his term as Pakistani Prime Minister/Finance Minister, Aziz had several personal meetings and dealings with then-U.S. President George W. Bush – and at least one with his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who replaced Colin Powell during Bush's second term.
According to Rice's 2007 biography (“Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power” by Newsweek chief correspondent Marcys Mabry), Aziz behaved in a questionable manner with her – and suffered the humiliation of rejection. Describing the first meeting between Rice and Aziz in Pakistan in March 2005, Mabry wrote: “When Rice sat down with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who fancies himself as ladies’ man, Aziz puffed himself up and held forth in what he obviously thought was his seductive baritone. He bragged -- to Western diplomats, no less -- that he could conquer any woman in two minutes.”
Mabry further said that Aziz "tried this Savile Row-suited gigolo kind of charm: 'Pakistan is a country of rich traditions' [he uttered while] staring in [Rice's] eyes." Another participant at the meeting said “there was this test of wills where he [Aziz] was trying to use all his charms on her [Rice] as a woman, and she just basically stared him down. By the end of the meeting, he was babbling. The [other] Pakistanis were shifting uncomfortably." An unnamed U.S. official also criticized the attitude of Pakistani men towards Rice. “They don’t get it …She has a really strong will, and I think people sometimes [under-estimate] her.”
Aside from Aziz's failed seduction, the group had actually assembled to discuss some rather grim and pressing topics, including Washington's unhappiness over Islamabad's efforts at cracking down on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as the U.S.’s new nuclear defense deal with India. Nonetheless, this embarrassing detail in Rice’s book about Aziz’s Lothario-like behavior, was much discussed in Pakistan, even pushing the opposition in parliament to either censure Aziz or bring him to the House to explain himself.
Handsome, rich, elegant and debonair, Aziz – who has a wife and three children – reportedly led a devil-may-care existence in glamorous foreign metropolises like Athens, London and New York during his Citibank career. But Rice was one woman he could not seduce.
At least two senior Pakistani officials defended Aziz following the revelations. Deputy information minister Tariq Azeem said: "The prime minister [Aziz] wanted to be nice with Dr Rice. Our tradition is that we should talk to women gently and decently and this was what the prime minister did." Similarly, foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said: “I will just describe them [the reports of Aziz's behavior] as... trash. It is all trash, which does not even deserve any comment.” Moreover, in a review of Mabry's book, Dawn, an English language Pakistani daily, called the author's descriptions of Aziz “unprecedented in their harshness.”
But some Pakistani bloggers have had some fun with it. One noted that Rice “has got something there to really entice the men of this world in the influential positions,” citing that former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was so obsessed with Rice that he had a whole album of her photographs. Another blogger condemned Aziz, asserting that he ”played his cards horribly wrong, going for the alpha male, direct approach where a little bit more subtlety and sensitivity could have given him some ‘enriched uranium’ before the night ended.”
But another blogger was more sympathetic to Aziz: “All the dapper minister [Aziz] was trying to do was to entertain Ms. Rice in the traditional Punjabi (read flamboyant) style to keep her mind off certain thorny issues like the [nuclear scientist] A.Q. Khan case, Afghanistan and democratic reforms in Pakistan. After all, isn’t using soft power (seductive baritone) the [right] thing in diplomacy? What he probably didn’t account for was the fact that in order to charm a steely woman like Condi he would require more than a sharp suit and deep voice.”
This blogger also thanked Aziz for inserting some much needed color and excitement to the otherwise dull world of foreign diplomacy. “He [Aziz] may have dialed the wrong number with Condi, but he has brought some color into the dry-as-dust diplomacy of the subcontinent,” the blogger stated. “For too long we have put up with preachy mandarins speaking from lofty pulpits. Along comes Mr. Aziz with his theatrics and what does he get in return? Flak from all sides.”
Of course, some Indian bloggers savaged Aziz. “If anyone of you have had any interaction at all with black women, you’d find most of them are pretty tough cookies,” one wrote. “Most of them have had to claw their way up in society against all sorts of prejudices, so the usual chat-up lines or flattery doesn’t hold any water…of course, western women get plenty of attention from males from [an] early stage, so most of them know how to handle any slimy lotharios [Aziz].”
A blogger named LiberalGrace placed the Aziz-Rice imbroglio in the broader context of sex roles on the sub-continent and how awkward South Asian men are around western women (who, of course, hail from a much freer and more sexually liberated society). “This is especially true for Muslim men who live in a predominately male world (with women behind purdah) and who have been fed a steady lifelong portrayal of western women as sluts,” Liberal Grace opined. “One can't blame them for believing it. They hear this slut charge preached by their local mullah and then they turn on their TV and see it confirmed on [American TV show] ‘Baywatch’ or they surf for porn and gather that every western woman must have posed for a porn shot, at least once in her life.”
Of course, Aziz now has far more bigger worries than failing to get a certain former Secretary of State to return his interest. His arrest warrant remains in effect, although his former boss, Musharraf, was recently released from house arrest by Pakistani officials. Still, he cannot leave the country and still may face charges of murder and treason.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.