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February 12, 2020

PTI’s failure in Punjab


February 12, 2020

It was the bad luck of Prime Minister Imran Khan that his party did not got enough seats in the Punjab to form the government on its own and is heavily dependent on the support of its allies, particularly Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which on Monday succeeded in getting all its major 'demands' accepted. For all practical purposes, the Punjab will now have a tripartite government of PTI, PML-Q and the one by the all powerful chief secretary, who has recently been empowered by the PM, himself.

In this new 'Punjab arrangement,' Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has further lost the control and grip (which even otherwise was quite weak) over the largest province as the Chaudhrys of Gujrat will now run the show on their own terms with powerful ministers and ministries, non-interference from the CM or administration and will have say in the administrative transfers and postings. There will also be changes in the present local government system which will also get 'development funds' as per their demand.

About a month back, the federal government on the instructions of the prime minister had empowered new chief secretary, Punjab, to make appointments, transfers and postings on 'merit' and not succumb to any pressure from ministers and party/allies MPAs. Similar, instructions were also issued to the IGP, Punjab. They may now have to make some 'adjustments' in the backdrop of the new political alignment or arrangement.

Still the CS would not send 'summaries' direct to the chief ninister as per the earlier directive of the Centre or to be more specific to the prime minister himself. However, there will be no delay in the summaries moved by the PML-Q ministers as per the 'new arrangement.' The tall claims of taking the Punjab's administrative and police control out of political interference or influence would be badly damaged with this political adjustment.

The question is whether in the final outcome of this agreement between the PTI and PML-N would be worked out without much problems is difficult to say and we may see some 'resistance' from police and bureaucracy as both the CS and IGP were brought with complete assurance that they would have complete independence to work without interference.

The Chaudhrys would certainly have an upper hand as they played their 'cards' well and for the first time someone like Imran Khan, who since his cricketing days is known for not taking pressure, was left with no other choice but to take yet another 'U-turn' on his narrative of good governance. The only demand which the Chaudhrys did not insist was over inducting Moonis Elahi in the federal cabinet as from the day one, the prime minister never looked comfortable with him because of the way Imran felt he got out from the case against him during the PPP government of former President Asif Ali Zardari. PM Imran in the past had strong or almost similar views about former chief minister Punjab Ch. Pervez Elahi and one his reasons of withdrawing support from former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was the Chaudhrys.

On its part, the strong men of Gujrat also used JUI-F Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his 'Azadi March' well to make their own bargaining position stronger. Now the JUI leader once again is in 'no win' position.

In the last 18 months, Punjab was run by the Centre and PM Khan took personal interest in getting things move in the right direction and tried to improve the perception and image of his handpicked Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood may be right when he said that every coalition government faced such problems but, in this case the prime minister committed a major blunder in picking a weak person as chief executive who could not even come upto the expectations of the party.

Secondly, how much this new political arrangement would satisfy his own partymen, the angry group of PTI MPAs. The ruling party is already facing lots of problems within Punjab and despite all efforts the prime minister could not resolve the differences among different groups in the party.

How much PTI and PM will gain in the Punjab after this fresh settlement with PML-Q depends on the functioning of the government but, surely there will be no writ of the Chief Minister Buzdar, who now will act as 'rubber stamp' as on the one hand he has powerful bureaucracy which is following orders of the chief secretary and on the other hand has Speaker Punjab Assembly, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who will now act as 'de facto' leader of Punjab.

This is exactly what happened when one forms a coalition government and depends heavily on allies. After the 'Punjab adjustment,' he may now face pressure from other allies, MQM (Pakistan) and BNP (Mengal), who must be watching the Punjab game with keen interest.

Whether the prime minister accepts it or not but 'Buzdar was his blunder.' He should consider himself lucky that the strong opposition party, PML-N and Sharifs are stuck in their own problems and are busy in 'silent politics.' Thus, the challenge for the ruling coalition is still not from outside but from its own quarters.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO