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September 13, 2020

Imran mishandled Punjab


September 13, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan was facing an uphill task on how to ‘reform Punjab’ as things are going from bad to worst and the recent changes in top police hierarchy have raised serious questions on governance and writ of the government.

Some bold decisions are now required from the premier if he really wants to consolidate his party’s position in the most decisive province.

The recent gang rape incident on the Motorway and the way it was handled by the police and the recently appointed CCPO has not only caused embarrassment to the government but also to the ruling party (PTI).

With transfers of five IGPs and four chief secretaries was good enough reasons for the collapse of the system in the most decisive province. It is not only the administrative failure but also the failure of the chief minister to establish his ‘writ’. Now can the PTI contest the local bodies’ elections with such a mess and poor performance that remains to be seen. They have formed a committee and intend to hold elections, may be early next year, before or after Senate elections, which are due in March.

Whether one puts all the responsibility on Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on his government failure in two years or on the prime minister for making such a weak political arrangement in Punjab, his ally PML-Q looked in a more comfortable position than the PTI itself. With Chaudhrys having total control of six districts and an upper hand in major decisions, the PTI provincial ministers find themselves in a weaker position.

Despite CM Buzdar getting complete backing from prime minister, it is turning out to be too weak and secondly he is remaining under constant pressure from the PML-Q and some powerful players within the PTI.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s handling of Punjab and his political arrangement with the PML-Q could not work out because of too much interference in the administrative setup as the PTI’s ally controlled six important districts as per ‘accord’ and also have an upper hand in the changes in the bureaucracy.

With Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi on one hand, Islamabad’s interference on the other, the administration never took Chief Minister Usman Buzdar seriously which caused the real problem in establishing government’s writ in the presence of too many bosses. Despite such powers given to the PML-Q, they are not happy with the PM and are not ‘on talking terms' with him for the past one year. It is such a weak government that at one stage even the former chief secretary was told not to send files directly to the chief minister unless seen by the premier himself. Such a situation caused embarrassment to Buzdar and the PML-Q also protested as it also blocked files moved by the Chaudhrys.

When the prime minister brought former IGP, KP, Nasir Durrani, he tried to reform Punjab police on the same pattern since the Police Order, 2002, was in place in Punjab and they only needed to establish Public Safety Commission and Complaint Authority. These two alone could have minimised political interference to large extent even if it could not completely stop such interference. Under the Police Order, 2002, the government has to give solid reasons if it wants to transfer IGP except in the case of medical grounds or he himself resigned or some unavoidable circumstances. Some of the former IGPs, told me that they had never seen such a mess in police setup in Punjab as witnessed in the last two years.

“It is now my considered opinion that no government at the Centre or in the provinces really wants to see an autonomous and independent police force,” former IGP Afzal Shigri told this scribe. Frequent changes of IGPs, was also the violation of court verdict in former IGP, Sindh, AD Khawaja case.

One wonders whether the prime minister had seen the file of newly- appointed Punjab IGP Inam Ghani and CCPO Umar Sheikh before giving his consent. The transfer of former IGP Shoaib Dastageer in the aftermath of controversy also sent a wrong signal within Punjab police that the boss paid the price for showing his anger against a junior officer.

Similarly, the chief secretary in reality is the face of the government and if in the last two years, four chief secretaries have been changed it clearly showed that ‘all is not well’. Transfer and posting of secretaries in different departments after every few weeks and months badly affected the work in almost all the major departments.

Prior to 2018 elections, the PTI and its chairman Imran Khan was confident that his party would retain rather improve its position in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but was not sure about winning Punjab, which remains the stronghold of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif despite his disqualification in 2016 Panama case. He was not all that wrong and in the post-election scenario the PTI would not have been able to form the government in Punjab without the support of its ally like the PML-Q in particular.

This made things more difficult for PMImran Khan to implement his ‘reform agenda’ as the race for the top slot ie chief minister, created cracks in party’s rank and file with two major groups, one led by Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the other by Jehangir Tareen almost came face to face and the fight became more visible.

It was at this stage those who matter suggested the name of former chief minister and PML-Q leader Pervaiz Elahi and believed that he would be able to bring some PML-N MPAs in support of the new government. Pervaiz Elahi himself once confirmed to me about such a move and said the matter did come under serious discussion within the PML-Q but Ch Shujaat decided against it as he wanted to keep the party’s identity intact. “Yes, such a proposal was suggested to them but Ch Shujaat expressed his unwillingness but at the same time extended support to the PTI’s any other nominee for CM,” he told me. Imran discussed Buzdar’s name with Chaudhrys who did not oppose him on the ground that he had worked with Pervaiz Elahi in the past and the latter told the PM that they knew his father well and extended support to him. So how long the prime minister will continue with this weak arrangement after the recent outburst against the CCPO Umar Sheikh over his uncalled and unacceptable remarks about the rape victim; it would not be easy to retain him as even the ministers have demanded his sacking.

It is time for the prime minister to revisit his choice of bringing Buzdar in the first place and consider a strong person who could rescue the PTI in Punjab. Apparently, there is none within the party while it would not be easy for Imran to try his luck with Pervaiz Elahi, whom many considered as the best alternate.

The premier is running out of options with Jehangir Tareen out and with too many ‘ifs and buts’ on name of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. How lucky Usman Buzdar is despite turning out to be a complete failure.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO