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When talent abounds

June 08, 2013

WHEN the just elected prime minister pledges he will make all decisions on merit and there will be no nepotism, one can only react with incredulity.

Soon after being elected prime minister earlier this week, Mr Nawaz Sharif made the vow in his maiden speech to the National Assembly. But as he did so the camera panned to the VIP gallery where Shahbaz Sharif was sitting.

Shahbaz Sharif, both the prime minister and his supporters would argue, is a man who can stand against the best on his own merit. After all, the May 11 election victory owed itself to SS’s performance, delivery, governance.

However, over the prime minister’s left shoulder, and several rows back, was another Sharif. Yes, Hamza, also a member of the august house. But because the party in power is so keen to dispel the notion of any nepotism, the poor young man may always remain stuck on the backbenches.

Unless Mian Sahib has a dramatic change of heart, there is no ministerial portfolio headed young Hamza’s way for now at least. He’ll always have to rely on his uncle and father’s performance to win a seat as he is unlikely to get an opportunity to display his own talent. For public service that is.

One recalls Zulfikar Ali Bhutto describing his cousin Mumtaz Ali Bhutto as “my talented cousin” when someone asked him about the propriety of including a close family member in the cabinet. Mumtaz Bhutto sadly sowed the seeds of ethnic strife in Sindh during a short stint as chief minister.

Anyone who was around then would remember how Mumtaz Bhutto’s decision to make Sindhi the sole official language of the province created the tinderbox which was set alight by Raees Amrohvi’s famous words in his daily Jang quatrain: “Urdu ka janaza he zara dhoom se nikle (let’s rejoice in Urdu’s funeral)”.

The decision was rescinded soon but not before a cleavage appeared among the new and old Sindhis, who had lived side by side in harmony since independence thanks mainly to the warmth and generosity of the locals who had welcomed the refugees with open arms and, in many instances, keys to evacuee properties.

After his disastrous tenure as chief minister was cut short, the talented cousin was made to swap places with Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi as the federal communications minister. It was this ministry that placed at his disposal the ‘penthouse’ at the PNSC Building in Karachi. Given its altitude, us lesser mortals on the street below couldn’t tell if he caused any damage there.

It was an interesting, and hopefully not telling, coincidence that as Nawaz Sharif spoke about nepotism and pledged not to allow it any part in his plans, the camera panned first to his talented brother and then to Mr Bhutto’s talented cousin in the VIP gallery.

Having finally abandoned his nationalist aspirations and confederation dreams and joining the mainstream Punjab-led PML-N, where else could he have been sitting if not in the VIP gallery? He had a visible presence in the oath-taking ceremony as well.

It has to be said that must have been a bitter pill to swallow as his distaste for the politics and personality of the current occupant of Aiwan-e-Sadr is well known.

So much so that when in 1996 Mumtaz Bhutto agreed to become Farooq Leghari’s caretaker chief minister, just as Jam Sadiq Ali became Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s in 1990, he left no stone unturned to ensure that if Asif Zardari could have a case to answer in the Murtaza Bhutto murder, he would.

Interesting stuff, all this. But we are marking and celebrating a new beginning pregnant with hope that a better Pakistan awaits where there’ll be power and water, jobs and hospitals, schools for the scores and nobody would go hungry. The talented family’s miracle must continue.

The PPP’s Makhdoom Amin Fahim obviously does not agree and attributes the PML-N’s huge win “at least to some extent” to the miracle of Islam; no, not the faith but the head of the ‘agency’ which many who wish to wield real power in the country have faith in and which some of us fear as one would the heavens.

Whatever you say about the Sharifs, they let talent make a public appearance. That is, talented Shahbaz Sharif will be the chief minister and openly and blatantly apply his talents to the task of governing the province. His alone shall be the accolades and, if he slips up, the opprobrium, the wrath of the public too.

In Sindh it has been a different story. We do have a chief minister who is also starting a second, nay third, term in office. But many say he isn’t really the one who exercises executive powers and that talented members of the First Family have a disproportionately large share.

Well, what option do you have when not only siblings but even adoptive brothers are so rich in talent and ability? If this talent can’t be put to use publicly, so be it. But reliance on it will continue for the good of all in Sindh. And if the party has suffered setbacks elsewhere it must be some conspiracy.

Perhaps, the PPP can take a leaf out of the Sharif chapter. Run one province well and so well that it delivers the country’s crown. One slight problem: only Punjab has the numbers to deliver Islamabad. Or it’ll have to be many, many small gains put together.

Who wouldn’t laud the Sharifs’ generosity and, what some say is, sagacity that they have handed over Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to other parties when they could themselves have ruled. To me, the decision’s been guided by some insightful thinking, the work of real talent.

Governing the two provinces and emerging unscathed at the end of the term is highly unlikely. Last time, the Sharifs only had Punjab and look what it delivered. Why change a winning formula?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.