A seasoned and experienced politician has returned to power in Sindh. Syed Murad Ali Shah, an NED graduate who went on to pursue a degree in engineering economics at Stanford University, has become the chief minister of Sindh for the second time.
In terms of his qualification, Murad Ali Shah is arguably the most qualified politician to head a provincial government in today’s Pakistan. Few have doubts about his credibility and competence. His expertise in the finance department and experience of dealing with the federal government on resource distribution puts him in a better position to defend the financial interests of the province and negotiate matters. Some have even said that he has federal fiscal distribution figures and issues on his finger tips.
Murad Ali Shah has 15 years of experience in parliamentary politics. He spent five years as a member of the opposition during Musharraf’s era, and later went on to become Sindh’s finance minister and chief minister. He is aware of the challenges, shortcomings, unfulfilled promises, and development deficits.
Will his second tenure change Sindh? Will he be given a free rein to govern, chose his own team, and set his own priority? Will he align development policy goals with the objectives that were brought to the fore at the Sindh Development Conference organised by the provincial government a few months back? Is he rethinking his strategy to widen the impact of development? Will development funds no longer be confined to few districts, such as Karachi, Nawabshah, Larkana and Khairpur? There is a considerable amount of empirical data to show that the PPP has led an uneven development agenda, preferring a few districts over others.
While the fight for a just share in federal resources is a long-drawn struggle, making the right use of what Sindh has in its fiscal kitty is equally important. A budget strategy paper prepared by the provincial finance department and released in February 2016 showed that the “provincial revenue will grow by 15 percent in next three years”. It further added that: “the province continues to grapple with low levels of human development: low literacy level; poor health indicators; inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation; poverty and hunger; and regional, gender and income disparities characterise our social underdevelopment”. How are these challenges going to be addressed? How will these income disparities be reduced?
The PPP leadership needs to realise that Faryal Talpur’s interference in the Sindh government hasn’t helped the party at all. Instead, it has earned a bad name for the party. Zia Lanjar and Sohail Anwar Siyal, the two ministers she selected, weren’t competent and delivered little. This created the impression that showing loyalty to Faryal reaps some rewards. Faryal’s interference in the PPP’s Sindh affairs has undermined the institutions of the party.
It is widely believed Faryal Talpur represents Asif Zardari in various political deals in Sindh, giving assurances and building alliances by undermining the party’s institutional role. Owais Muzaffar Tappi was imposed on the people of Thatta. Although he was elected, he witnessed a political backlash and left the country. He hasn’t returned for many years now.
It seems as though history is repeating itself. The same seat was allotted to Ali Hassan Zardari who belongs to Zardari’s hometown Nawabshah. PPP workers in Thatta expressed their reservations about this decision. Ali Hassan was known for having made his fortunes through transfers and postings in the irrigation department – a money-making department with a construction budget worth billions. Favouring relatives and pampering cronies is tantamount to snatching the mandate of the people. Imposing unpopular people on voters does more damage to a party.
Murad Ali Shah should be given a free hand to run the government, and the Sindh government ought to restrain itself from getting involved in unnecessary disputes. For instance, the provincial government’s tug of war with former IGP A D Khawaja was a complete waste of time and did a great deal of damage. The PPP wouldn’t want to be remembered for paralysing the police chief in Sindh.
However, there isn’t much that Murad Ali Shah can do about making sure that the gains of the Karachi Operation aren’t lost. A great deal depends on prosecuting alleged killers arrested in a series of raids carried out by the Rangers and the police. If they are not brought to justice, peace in Karachi will be a long shot. So far, we have yet to see the convictions of those who have been arrested.
Now the PTI government has appointed a lawyer who was defending an accused in the Baldia Factory fire as a minister in the cabinet. At this stage, we fear the fate of the case on the Baldia factory fire, one of the most heinous crimes against innocent workers. Overall, the law and order situation in the province has improved, kidnapping for ransom has almost come to an end, and the streets are safer, encouraging people to travel late at night, especially in the northern part of Sindh where dacoits have reigned for a long time since the 1980s.
Murad Ali Shah’s success depends on how much space he gets to make decisions and set development priorities without any interference from powerful elements within the party. This time, change in the ministerial portfolio has been welcomed. The education department has been given to Sardar Ali Shah, a dynamic and dedicated professional who previously served as Sindh’s minister for culture and tourism. The education department requires long-term reforms through political support.
CM Shah has put in place a good team that signals the hope for a change. The old ministerial club from the affluent class hasn’t surfaced this time around. The PPP’s desire to rule in the centre is based on its performance in Sindh. The party’s success in what has come to be known as its home province will determine its credibility as a party that is capable of delivering on its promises.