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January 24, 2020

Has Buzdar lost PM’s confidence?

National

January 24, 2020

Chief Minister, Punjab, Sardar Usman Buzdar, has finally lost the confidence of Prime Minister, Imran Khan too, but he will not take a decision in haste to replace him in view of the danger of possible serious infighting within his own party for the top slot.

Against this backdrop, when the PM decided to bring a new chief secretary, who is also empowered to take some decisive decisions in transfer and postings, speed up the development work and publicised that to improve the media image. Besides, he was also given specific instructions not to send any summary directly to the chief minister without clearance from Islamabad. If the reports that Buzdar midwifed the PTI's 20 MPAs 'forward bloc' to counter the chief secretary are true, it may not go in his favor and the prime minister may not be very pleased.

About a month ago during his visit to Lahore, while the prime minister praised the chief minister he also expressed his concern over his 'negative' image, particularly in the media. Despite changing the Punjab government and CM's spokesman thrice, the prime minister could not get positive results.

Imran had backed and patronized Buzdar to the hilt. To support Buzdar, prime minister replaced one IGP with another and also changed the chief secretaries, shuffled bureaucracy frequently but all his support for the man from Rajanpur went in vain. Even PTI's strong social media group could not uplift Buzdar's image as most of those working in the group believe that the problem lies with the CM, himself.

The prime minister also replaced at least thrice or four times the chief minister’s spokesman. The present Information Minister, Fayyaz ul Hasan Chochan, has been brought for the second time after Samsam Bokhari, Mian Aslam and even Shahbaz Gill failed. In reality, none of them were responsible as they find difficulties in projecting the 'fake image' and 'fake performance.'

Buzdar does not face any major challenges like the formidable Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz nor from the main coalition partner i.e. PML (Q), except that the Chaudhries of Gujrat, want to draw maximum advantage out of the weak chief minister. The real challenge, which Buzdar could not address, was the opposition from his own party and that was not without reason. Buzdar was the stranger in the PTI till a week before July 25th, 2018 elections and was nowhere in the race for the top slot. He was neither the top choice of the Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Imran received the major setback that shattered his political and development plans for Punjab when the Supreme Court disqualified the former federal minister and party's senior vice President, Jehangir Tareen. Although, there was always a tussle between him and PTI's Secretary General, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the party chairman always had more confidence and trust in JT than SMQ. The infighting took an ugly turn when SMQ, in order to clinch the top slot contested from a Punjab Assembly seat as well and lost, but managed to win from the National Assembly seat. It raised lot of questions within the SMQ's camp and they indirectly blamed JT for the defeat.

Aleem Khan was the other strong contender for the top slot, who till the 2018 elections was considered as a strong man from Lahore and prior to NAB’s inquiry followed by his arrest, enjoyed the confidence of the prime minister.

Governor Punjab Ch. Sarwar and former leader of the opposition in PML (N) government, Mahmood Rasheed were communicated at a rather earlier stage that they were not in the race. Even Federal Minister, for Science and Technology, Fawad Choudhry portrayed himself within the party as the candidate for the CM’s office, but, he could not win the confidence of the PM.

Nominating someone like Sardar Usman Buzdar as the chief minister of the biggest province against all odds was not an easy decision for the prime minister. The only factor that went in his favor was his non-partisan stance viz-a-viz the PTI groups as he did not belong to any of those groups. Imran Khan, sources said, took the Chaudhries of Gujrat into confidence before announcing the decision. Speaker, Punjab Assembly, Ch. Pervez Elahi during my telephonic conversation confirmed it. Elahi said he told the prime minister that they knew Buzdar's father and that was the sum total of their information about Imran’s new candidate. However, both Chaudhries assured Khan of support him, if he nominated Buzdar. "He requested us to back and guide him," Elahi said.

Ch. Pervez Elahi could have been the best choice not only because of his experience as a successful chief minister of the largest province with the proven ability to split the PML(N) in Punjab, but the prime minister did not consider him for two reasons: Elahi could have proved very powerful, and the warring but influential PTI groups would not have accepted him.

Interestingly, in 2002, former President, General (retd), Pervez Musharraf nominated Ch. Pervez Elahi, had supported and patronised the Chaudharies to counter former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This decision annoyed Imran Khan, who at that time considered the Chaudharies as part of the same 'political mafia' prompting Khan to withdraw his party's support from Musharraf.

In the last 18 months, the prime minister tried hard to uplift the image of Usman Buzdar and even went to an extent to declare that 'as long as PTI government is in power Buzdar would remain the chief minister.' Buzdar is unrivalled in the prime minister’s support for any of the chief ministers. He also tried to improve his media image, projecting him as honest and a non-assuming leader who prefers to work diligently away from the limelight. But, he was thoroughly disappointed by the flurry of reports he continued to get from the bureaucracy and the intelligence apparatus.

The recent political developments in Punjab are a clear indicator that despite consistent efforts and support the Punjab Chief Minister, Sardar Usman Buzdar has disappointed Prime Minister Imran Khan and the latter’s decision to empower the chief secretary is the last bid to see if things work out. The circumstances created by the Punjab chief minster have thrown up serious political challenges for the prime minister particularly with the local bodies elections right around the corner likely to be scheduled for Oct or Nov. The PTI may not like to go to polls with the proverbial albatross in the neck and may ponder delaying the polls till 2021.

It may be all over for Buzdar but, as they say, nothing is over till it is over. The CM has been extremely lucky from the day he was graciously picked for the job, but in 18 months he has certainly lost the confidence of the prime minister. The ball is very much in Khan's court. If the chief secretary's formula also fails, it may be curtains drawn for Usman Buzdar-Waseem Akram Plus.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO