LAHORE: As a power struggle between the ruling lawmakers and bureaucracy intensifies in Punjab, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is waiting for the right moment to try and bring down the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government in the country’s largest province.
Governance issues in Punjab have become a headache for Prime Minister Imran Khan whose recent move to fully empower Chief Secretary retired Major Azam Suleman, Inspector General of Police Shoaib Dastgir and other top bureaucrats to minimize political role in administrative affairs has deepened the crisis.
The emergence of a ‘disgruntled’ group of 20 PTI lawmakers from southern parts of the province that wants distribution of public funds and public welfare projects and powers to transfer police and other officials of their choice in their respective constituencies is said to be a move planned by none else but Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar to clip the powers of the top bureaucracy and establish himself as ‘not-so-weak’ chief executive of the province.
“Mr. Buzdar wants his say in provincial matters to oblige the MPAs from the south [Punjab] from where he hails [D.G. Khan],” says a PTI insider.
MPA Sardar Shahabuddin is leading the ‘angry’ group, with a pledge to continue raising voice till all their grievances are addressed.
Although Mr. Buzdar had never been a strong chief minister since assuming office about one and a half years ago, PM Khan’s reported move to run Punjab through the provincial bureaucracy did not augur well for him (CM Buzdar) and the ruling lawmakers.
Ruling lawmakers be it Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, PTI’s Punjab Assembly members or even those belonging to its key ally, the PML-Q, complain about having no powers in administrative matters.
Mr. Khan’s close confidant Jehangir Tareen has reportedly assured the PML-Q of administrative share in the districts where it has a strong base and its leadership Moonis Elahi has expressed satisfaction over the government commitments after which the coalition partner seems to have fallen silent, at least for the time being.
Governor Sarwar, in a private TV channel talk, admitted that he had issues with the bureaucracy. “The bureaucracy does not bother to respond whenever my office contacts it on any issue. I wonder [how] a minister’s request to the bureaucracy for any work is termed illegal but it becomes legitimate when an officer asks for the same,” Mr. Sarwar said.
The governor said since PTI lawmakers had to address the issues of people in their constituencies, power should be devolved to the grassroots level. “We will take up this matter with the PM, the chief secretary, and the IGP. Our lawmakers should be given respect by the bureaucracy,” Mr. Sarwar said.
A provincial bureaucrat told Dawn that he had orders from the ‘top’ not to take political pressure and uphold merit.
“Our bosses told us not to oblige any political pressure and work on merit,” he said, adding the lawmakers’ main job was policymaking and they should not pressure them (bureaucrats) for transfers and postings of SHOs, patwaris or other officials to ‘oblige their voters’.
The party insider said PM Khan could not afford to have Mr Buzdar replaced with anyone in the PTI. “Imran Khan has been in the catch-22 situation… if he removes Buzdar, then who will take a vote of confidence for the chief minister keeping in view a very thin majority in the Punjab Assembly.
“Another obvious choice he has from the ally party is Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi but that decision he will have to take under some ‘compulsion’ if he (Khan) is stuck in a blind alley at the end of the day,” the insider observed.
Interestingly, Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan insisted Mr. Buzdar had “full powers” of the chief executive of the province and the bureaucracy was under him.
While speaking to Dawn, Mr. Chohan said: “This is a wrong impression that the chief minister has formed any pressure group of MPAs to seek powers from bureaucracy. There has been no forward bloc in the PTI. However, the difference of opinion among the ruling lawmakers is the beauty of democracy.”
Asked if the governor or the chief minister of Punjab would speak to PM Khan over these issues, Mr. Chohan said: “There is no need for this.”
Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz had a day ago declared that they were open for talks with ‘others’, a reference to the ruling coalition partner, the PML-Q.
“In-house change is a democratic process,” he added.
In reply to a question about joining hands with the PML-Q or other government allies, Mr. Shahbaz said: “We have kept our doors open.”
PML-N lawmaker Samiullah Khan, who recently met the Sharif brothers in London, told Dawn that the way the PML-Q had questioned the rising corruption, local body system proposed by the PTI and other matters indicated that it might soon quit the ruling coalition.
“Once the PML-Q is out of the coalition, we would like to have good relations with it, while matters like who will take the chief minister office can be discussed later,” he said, adding it seemed a matter of “a few months” that the Punjab government would fall. If the PTI government was sent packing in Punjab, the Centre would follow, the PML-N lawmaker believed.
About approaching PTI’s ‘forward bloc’, the PML-N leader said: “If the group sticks to its stance of ‘supremacy of parliament’ we may join hands and form a mutual strategy in days to come.”
Meanwhile, PML-N circles have rejected the rumors that disgruntled party leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan could be a possible choice of the party to pitch him for the top slot in Punjab government in coming months.
“PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is still calling the shots in the party and without his approval, Chaudhry Nisar cannot be welcomed in the party,” a party leader close to the Sharif family told Dawn.
He said neither PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif nor any other senior leader had spoken to Mr. Nawaz so far about ‘pardoning’ the disgruntled Nisar and considering him for the slot of Punjab CM due to his close association with the powers that be.
It is worth mentioning that Mr. Nisar has not yet taken the oath of the MPA in Punjab Assembly.
“Punjab will be the ultimate battleground in the coming months and the change will begin from here. We are playing a waiting game and show our cards at the right time,” the PML-N leader said.