Wednesday Jan 29, 2020
It seems that of late, Usman Ahmed Buzdar, the chief minister of Punjab, has become a sort of a majboori (a compulsion) for the prime minister. Why else would the premier refuse to replace him? Why else would PM Imran insist that anyone, who is not Buzdar, would not last 20 days as chief minister in the province?
The statement alone gives one an insight into the trouble brewing between the ruling party and its allies in Pakistan’s politically important and most populous province, Punjab.
The chief minister has failed to deliver in the last one year. But Prime Minister Imran Khan, who plucked Buzdar out of obscurity, is adamant. He doesn’t hold the man from South Punjab responsible for the failings, instead the prime minister points towards conspiracies and a “mafia” that has been working to destabilize the government in Punjab.
Usman Buzdar is a lucky man.
In recent days, the premier has also asked his party leaders at the Center and in Punjab to back the chief minister, as the latter usually doesn’t receive much support in the media from those in his cabinet, except his spokesperson Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan.
A source privy to the developments told me that Buzdar has also complained to the prime minister about a few men in Islamabad, such as Fawad Chaudhry, who have been openly critical of his government in Punjab. He is alleged to have told the premier that he is facing more opposition from within the PTI, then from the opposition parties.
Interestingly, if the prime minister was truly satisfied with the performance of Buzdar, he would not have brought in Azam Suleman, a seasoned bureaucrat, as the chief secretary to look after the administrative affairs in the province.
On paper, the chief minister is the chief executive. The chief secretary has to only follow orders. But in reality, the chief secretary, right now, is all powerful in Punjab. Suleman and the Inspector General of Police have also been advised by the prime minister to hear out the grievances of the members of the parliament and provincial ministers.
Last week, when PM Imran visited Lahore, there was another interesting development – his cold shoulder to the Chaudhrys. The Pakistan Muslim League-Q is a strong and an important ally of the PTI in the province and the Center. Yet, when the prime minister arrived in the city, he did not meet their leadership, or go to inquire about Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s health.
In a recent media interview, Moonis Elahi, from the PML-Q, said he was not inducted in the federal cabinet because of the prime minister’s “personal dislike” of him. This week, a high-powered meeting of the PML-Q is expected to decide the party’s future course of action. This could spell more trouble for the ruling PTI.
A source tells me that the prime minister stood by Buzdar because he is confident that the PML-Q will not jump on the bandwagon of its rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, to topple the PTI-led government in Punjab. The Chaudhrys do not have many options in the province, besides the PTI.
By keeping Buzdar in office, the message sent to the PML-Q is that the prime minister will not be forced to make decisions under pressure.
Another thorn in the Punjab government’s side will be the upcoming local government elections. The differences between the PTI and the PML-Q could further sharpen over the amendments made to the local government laws.
If the two sides fail to reach a consensus over the local bodies system, it could become a final breaking point between the two political parties. Why? Because the PML-Q is looking to score big in the local polls. But then, so is the PTI and the PML-N.
But when it comes to the local government elections, there are also grumblings within the PTI. Recently, a group of 20 or so disgruntled MPAs told the prime minister and the chief minister that without getting any development funds, they will not be able to secure a victory for the party in the local polls.
Removing three provincial ministers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is easier than sending even one minister home in Punjab. The PTI has a comfortable majority in the northwestern province. It doesn’t in Punjab. Every man and woman in the Punjab assembly counts if the prime minister wants to retain his chief minister.
After returning from Davos, PM Imran has held separate meetings with the chief minister of KP and Punjab. Both were told to improve their image in the media and to be more assertive to establish the writ of the government.
For now, Usman Buzdar is here to stay. What may have saved him is the “majboori card”. But the question is, how long can this card be played, and at what cost?
Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang
He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO