Shaukat Aziz clearly remembers the phone call that changed his life. It was 1999 and Aziz was working at a senior position in Citibank, New York. “One day, I was in a meeting in the conference room when my secretary came in with a slip [note],” he tells Weekend Review. “There was call from Rawalpindi — she couldn’t even pronounce it — and she asked if I could take the call.” Perplexed, Aziz did.
On the other end of the line was General Pervez Musharraf, who had orchestrated a military coup and overthrown the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif only a few days earlier. “He [Musharraf] said the economy is in serious trouble … You and I have never met … and I also understand you have never met any of my core command. I said, ‘No, sitting in New York I have no opportunity or reason to meet anybody’. He said my name had been given to him as a potential candidate for some position in the government. I told him I had never applied [for any post]. He said, ‘We have our own sources to find out where the good people are’.”
And so Aziz flew to Pakistan to meet Musharraf. “This was the first time I had stepped into the GHQ [General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army]. I was impressed by Musharraf’s candour and his desire to do something. I think I spent 45 minutes with him, and then a couple of hours with the rest of his team. Then he met me at his residence … he told me that they were looking at other candidates, too, and would let me know.”
Aziz then returned to New York. “A few weeks later, there was a call from General Aziz [Khan]. He offered me the position of minister of finance and commerce. I told him that the two are different, and with the economy in dire straits, finance itself would require full-time attention. I requested them to give this to somebody else, which they did, several weeks later.”