Punjab’s Peculiarities

The holy fathers of the MMA (now mercifully defunct) had a chance to prove themselves when they gained power in the Frontier Province. But they proved disastrous at governance. Across the national landscape their name now, and we can be thankful for this, is mud.

By Ayaz Amir

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Published: Sat 4 Jul 2009, 12:41 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:59 AM

The PML-N is in power in Punjab but, quite legitimately, it has its eyes on national power, whenever the opportunity beckons. This is the challenge before it. To be seen as the natural party of government — and more than government, the party of national revival — it must prove itself in Punjab in order to strengthen its claim that it is the chosen instrument of destiny to turn around the fortunes of Pakistan.

Punjab is not a small laboratory. Its population and economic strength make it the republic’s largest component. We should not get emotional about the facts of life. Punjab works, the republic works. If its outlook is narrow and its performance halting the nation suffers.

A caveat is in order. The Frontier province is in the forefront of the internal war Pakistan is caught in and it is the Frontier paying the heaviest cost of this conflict. But without Punjab holding the pillars of the national temple aloft, this war could not be fought. So it must be: all for one, one for all.

The PML-N leader in Punjab, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, is a tireless worker who puts in long hours himself and sees to it that his staff and advisers do the same. I would go a step further and say that in Pakistan at the moment, in political and administrative terms, there are three success stories: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Gillani not because of exceptional administrative skill but for keeping a potentially fractious National Assembly together. He is one prime minister, and I think he will be remembered for this, who commandslikeability across the house.

He is accessible to all and maintains his composure at all times, which are not mean political qualities. If only he changed his suits and ties less often, cut down a bit on his foreign travels and brought himself to discipline some of his near and dear ones, whose activities bring a bad name to him, he would carve out a bigger niche for himself.

Kayani is a good thing to have happened to the army. It took him a while to gather the reins in his hands but he is now very much in command. A man of few words, he recalls de Gaulle’s dictum, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” Under his leadership, the sacrifices of our soldiers, officers and men, have gone a long way to rehabilitate and redeem the army’s image, sullied so cruelly under Musharraf.

Now the pendulum is swinging the other way, with the army command’s restored confidence setting the spark to a new set of conspiracy theories. This is reflected in some of the buzz around the watering holes of the chattering classes: dark talk centred on the prospect of change sometime later this year.

The republic and the army have gone down this path many times before, the road to hell as always paved with the noblest of intentions. Kayani and the army command may be on a roll but they must guard against a danger and a temptation. The danger: opening too many fronts at once, going into Waziristan before Swat is fully secured; the temptation: heeding the siren calls of Bonapartism. Pakistan can survive more Baitullah Mehsuds. It cannot survive another general out to save the country.

Shahbaz Sharif is the third success story in Pakistan today, someone who has acquired a reputation for probity, hard work and strict administration. He runs a tight ship and his hand on the tiller is sure and strong but I wish that he wouldn’t try to do everything himself. In the exercise of power there is a point when too much detail becomes a liability.

While hands-on administration is good, over-centralisation is a drawback. A leader must have an eye for the larger picture. But some things are best left to subordinates and underlings.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a strong ruler (a bit over-strong in some respects) but his ministers were powerful figures too and even in the provinces there were ministers who became household names. The names of how many current Punjab ministers can anyone remember?

In the CM’s scheme of things, the Punjab Chief Secretary Javed Mahmood, looms large. But if he were more accessible, and his notions of his office less regal, there would be less of a burden on 7 Club Road.

He and his extensive stable of provincial secretaries should be attending to the details of administration. CM Secretariat should be monitoring and overseeing things and, if we were lucky, churning out ideas. Here it seems to be the other way round: 7 Club Road attending to the nuts and bolts while the CS fancies himself an ideas’ man. (The IGP Punjab, it has to be said, has a sound sense of the practical.)

One problem Punjab will soon have to address is the absence of administrative control in the districts. Where Musharraf caused havoc in other spheres of national life, he destroyed the old framework of district administration and substituted it with the lumber of the district nazim. Enormous amounts were made available for development at the local level but because there was no oversight and no accountability, enormous sums were pilfered. This can be attested to in almost every district of Pakistan, district and tehsil nazims who could hardly make ends meet suddenly coming into great wealth and property. Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz called this grass-roots development. For some it was indeed that.

I have said before that the erstwhile institution of the deputy commissioner had come to the end of the road. But looking at the administrative mess in our districts now it seems that after laying the district nazims in their coffins, and according them a suitable burial, something like the office of the deputy commissioner will have to be revived. Inconsistency? Perhaps but wasn’t it Emerson who declared consistency not to be an all-weather virtue? (“Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” is what he actually said.)

All politics (ultimately) is local, said Tip O’Neill, once-upon-a-time a prominent US Congressman and for many years House Speaker. Which encourages me to say a few words about Chakwal and two officers sent there by the superior lights of 7 Club Road: DCO Dr Jamal Yousaf (now mercifully withdrawn but not without repeated submissions) and DPO B. A. Nasir, a veteran of Bosnia, the Hague, etc, whose post office approach to policing (forwarding complaints here and there without being able to take a decision himself) leaves even his subordinates nonplussed and amazed.

If chief minister Punjab were ever of a mind to bring a recalcitrant MNA/MPA to heel he need go to no extraordinary lengths.

All he would have to do is post both these worthies in his district and I’ll change my name if within a month that MNA doesn’t come howling to 7 Club Road begging for mercy.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and member of parliament

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