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Friday July 01, 2022

What happened in Murree?

January 11, 2022

When you appoint the likes of Usman Buzdar and Mahmood Khan as chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa respectively, what exactly is the expectation? A stellar performance? Even PTI diehards could never defend these appointments. As if the selection was not pathetic enough, the prime minister had announced that Usman Buzdar would remain chief minister as long as the party were in power – come what may.

These key provinces have been treated as kindergarten schools with chief ministers going through basic training in areas such as governance, management, communication, coordination, planning, budgeting, resource allocation, team selection, crisis management and so on. The learning process continues to date. When the prime minister commits publicly that the chief ministers will remain in their positions irrespective of performance, there is simply no pressure to excel. In cricketing parlance, imagine if a batter is selected in the national team and the board president announces that the player will never be dropped in the five-year period even if he were to fail miserably.

When a tragedy of epic proportions like the one in Murree happens, one is lost for words. The entire country has been in a state of mourning since then. Whom to blame? The prime minister for poor selection or CM Buzdar for failing yet again to come up to basic expectation? Where do you pin the responsibility of these deaths? And it’s not just those who died – imagine the shock and anger among those who were caught in that freezing temperature without the support of anything resembling the state

On the morning of the tragedy when the entire focus of CM Punjab should have been to coordinate and manage the efforts in Murree, he was instead attending a meeting to review the reorganisation of the party structure in Punjab. He left the meeting midway only after he got instructions from the PM; this according to Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry. How can one be so callous and incompetent to not understand the gravity of the situation? Clearly shows the CM is still undergoing training – 42 months after being in the job.

But it will be unfair to blame or criticise only the CMs of Punjab or KP. What about the federal government, including the PM? What about Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who famously rejoiced the fact that more than 100,000 cars had gone to Murree just 2-3 days before the tragedy stuck. For him, this was just more evidence of economic development under the premiership of Imran Khan. To be sure Murree can handle a maximum of 5000 cars in a day. Later, after the tragedy, there was no remorse on his part.

The PM on the other hand typically refused to accept responsibility on behalf of the federal and provincial governments and seemed to instead blame the people for not properly assessing the weather situation. The interior minister was no different. Bottom line: no one but the people themselves are responsible for the tragedy in Murree, according to the PTI leadership.

The job of any government is to take steps in advance to ensure the safety and security of the citizens. There are SOPs when it comes to winter time in areas such as Murree, Nathiagali and other hill stations. Shahbaz Sharif as CM Punjab ensured these were implemented before the start of the winter season. The bureaucracy at all levels ensured timely implementation to preempt any adverse possibility.

The PM has been talking repeatedly about the tourism potential that Pakistan offers and it has been one of his priority objectives. This is all good but the PM fails to understand that practical steps are needed to promote any such objective. Making speeches is not enough. In fact, as we have seen in all other areas as well: making only speeches and not planning implementation can lead to devastating consequences. And this is exactly what we saw in Murree.

Typically, in case of failure, as in Murree, the prime minister and his team start to blame everyone but the government itself. This time it’s the people – as bizarre as that sounds. Can the PM explain exactly what practical steps have been taken over the last three years to facilitate tourists? In the absence of any practical steps, talk is cheap.

The public is doing what it can only do in the aftermath of such a catastrophe – amplify the anger and agony, especially after listening to and reading the response from government and party officials. People are literally sick of the typical condemnation messages and the ‘inquiry committee’ announcements.

Mr Prime Minister, we are not interested in any committee or its report. This is too big a tragedy. We want action. We want you to fix responsibility and take action against those who were responsible but asleep while children, women and others were dying. We want heads to roll. Making speeches on Pakistan becoming like Riasat-e-Madina will remain a bitter joke if the culprits go unpunished.

The PM must also review his decision to keep the likes of incompetent, callous leaders such as Usman Buzdar, Mahmood Khan and others in their important positions. Why must the people of Pakistan continue to pay the price for your poor decisions? In an administration which has seen four finance ministers, three industries ministers, four energy ministers, three information ministers, seven FBR chairpersons, five finance secretaries, a similar numbers of IGs and others, there must be some reason other than the performance or political yardstick because of which some incompetent people continue to hold on to their positions.

Not taking any action is no option for Imran Khan and his government. Will it change course this time and do what the people of Pakistan expect it to do? If the past 42 months and the initial response is any indicator, we will end with everyone comfortably remaining in key official positions and continuing to enjoy the many perks and privileges. But that course will sooner rather than later draw the wrath of the people, especially those who have suffered in the Murree tragedy.

The writer is the spokesperson for Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, and former governor Sindh. He tweets @Real_MZubair

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