Former Pakistani Prime Minister Talks Banking, Politics, and Surviving an Assassination Attempt

Shaukat Aziz discusses surviving an assassination attempt in Fateh Jang, Pakistan, in 2004. (1 min., 21 sec.)

In the fall of 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan through a military coup, he called Shaukat Aziz — then an executive with Citigroup — to gauge his interest in becoming the country's new finance minister. "He said 'you know we have a serious problem — the country's economy is in dire straits," Aziz recalled. "I said 'I know'. He said, 'Well if you know, we need help.'"

Thus began the next chapter in the life of the banker-turned-politician, a man who would eventually serve as Pakistan's prime minister during one of the most tumultuous times in the country's history.

Aziz appeared at Asia Society in New York on Tuesday to discuss his new memoir, From Banking to the Thorny World of Politics, which he authored along with journalist Anna Mikhailova. In his conversation with Josette Sheeran, Asia Society's president and CEO, Aziz spoke at length about the challenges he faced reforming a country of nearly 200 million beset by a wide range of developmental problems.

Long a mild-mannered banker and self-described workaholic, Aziz encountered Pakistan's rough-and-tumble political life in a personal way in 2004: He survived an assassination attempt when his motorcade was attacked in the city of Fateh Jang. Aziz, whose driver was among the four killed in the attack, told Sheeran that the traumatic experience reinforced his desire to help Pakistan.

"It gave me, as I reflected on it, tremendous strength. God had given me new life, and given me an opportunity to serve my motherland."

Aziz and Sheeran spoke at length about Pakistan's foreign relations, particularly those with the United States and China — two countries that, along with Russia and the European Union, form what Aziz calls the "P4." Relations between Washington and Islamabad have often experienced difficulty in the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, a strain epitomized by the controversial U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in 2011. Meanwhile, Islamabad's relationship with Beijing has grown closer: Aziz called China's $46 billion investment in highways, ports, and rail lines across Pakistan the "best thing that has happened to the country."

And, in a year characterized by the backlash against globalization across the United States and Europe, Aziz reaffirmed his belief in the virtue of free trade — a force he believes would improve Pakistani relations with its longtime adversary, India.

"Trade, apart from the exchange of goods, also creates a better level of understanding," he said. "Connectivity and interdependence are great drivers for peace in the world."

Watch the complete video of Shaukat Aziz' appearance at Asia Society:

About the Author

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Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.