JEDDAH/RIYADH/DAMMAM, 27 June 2004 — Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s resignation as Pakistan prime minister has rattled Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, with an overwhelming majority saying it is bad for the South Asian country’s nascent democracy.
While many expected Jamali to be replaced before President Pervez Musharraf embarks on an overseas tour on July 3, few foresaw that the premier would resign. Only a day earlier Jamali had denied media reports about his imminent resignation.
Some Pakistani expats felt Jamali was driven to the wall after months of speculation that relations between him and Musharraf had chilled. Others said Jamali should have been allowed to complete his term, if only for the sake of Pakistan’s shaky democracy.
“Whatever his differences with Musharraf, Jamali looked to continue for the rest of his term. However, what has happened is not good for Pakistan and its democracy. Imagine changing leaders like this. A new premier will come and take time to establish himself... Not a healthy sign,” said Shahid Naeem of Pakistan Journalists Forum in Jeddah.
Shahid Amin, president of the Jeddah Cricket League, was cautiously optimistic. “Let’s hope that it’s a constructive move for the betterment of the country. I also hope the new incumbent is competent enough to take the country out of the present crisis,” he said.
“Jamali is a seasoned politician and was conducting himself well. The fact that he had to resign shows that his relationship with Musharraf was strained,” said Shabbir Ramzan, an auto mechanic. “It also shows that he had no clear public support from Musharraf,” he added.
Musharraf, who met earlier Saturday with Jamali, had apparently grown impatient with Jamali’s inability to rein in opposition lawmakers and effectively defend the government’s approach. “The move may have an impact on the country’s foreign policy including its support for the US’ war on terror and peace talks with India,” said Jamal Chaudhri, a Jeddah restaurant manager.
Few were happy. Dr. A.M. Kaisrani, an eye surgeon, said the people had hoped democracy was on the upswing with the first civilian prime minister in many years. “Jamali’s resignation does not augur well for democracy in Pakistan. Instability will keep investors away from Pakistan.”
Syed Ehsanul Haque of the Pakistan Repatriation Council said the resignation would have a negative effect on the stability of Pakistan. “It has come as a surprise because Jamali denied rumors about his resignation. The resignation comes at a time when stability is needed the most,” he said.
Maqsood G. Aga took the long view. “Gen. Musharraf is the president and the man in uniform. Jamali was an administrative figurehead. In such situations, there are those who continue for a long time, but he somehow decided to quit early,” he said. “During Gen. Zia’s time there were also quite a few prime ministerial changes. Democracy in Pakistan will need more time to take roots,” he added.
Saleem Bukhary, a project manager in an engineering company, agreed. He said Jamali was ineffective and did not demonstrate any leadership. He felt that all parties were at each other’s throat, and were muzzling democracy.
In Riyadh, Qudsia Mirza called Jamali’s resignation a “big blow” to the confidence of overseas Pakistanis who are planning to go back to the country.
“It’s a real tragedy. There is now a big question mark for us overseas Pakistanis with plans of settling back in Pakistan. It has really broken our confidence,” Qudsia said.
Her husband, banker A. Qadeer Mirza, struck a personal note. “This was the first time we had prime minister from the smallest province. He was a nice, gentle person with no hatred toward anyone.”
In the Eastern Province, Naseen Shahri of Sialkot, a travel agent, said a democratic country should be ruled in a democratic manner. “Whatever their differences, (Musharraf and Jamali) should have ended with mutual consultation and discussion.”
— With input from K.S. Ramkumar and Habib Shaikh in Jeddah, Chito P. Manuel in Riyadh and Abdul Rahman M. Ali in Dammam.