LAHORE: Mounting tension and power tussle within the PTI-led Punjab government finally took its toll on Friday as Chief Minister Usman Buzdar’s spokesman Dr Shahbaz Gill resigned, while adviser Awn Chaudhry was removed — both said to be close to none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Shahbaz Gill was directly appointed by the prime minister to be a spokesperson for the chief minister when the latter faced the media, but the former started asserting himself. At times, sources say, Dr Gill would start behaving like “an all-powerful entity” and cross lines that did not go down well within the chief minister’s secretariat.

Earlier in the day, Dr Gill tweeted that he had taken an important decision and eventually his resignation surfaced. “I resign from the post of official spokesman to CM Punjab.”

Similarly, Awn Chaudhry was made CM Buzdar’s adviser exactly a year ago but was never given any portfolio. Sources say that PM Khan had actually distanced himself from Mr Chaudhry after coming into power and dumped him in Punjab where he remained inactive as he was not given any role in any government matter.

Awn Chaudhry has been replaced by Asif Mahmood who has been given horticulture and tourism portfolio.

While some cabinet members believe that there is no political power play, sources say Dr Gill had lost the chief minister’s confidence some five months ago and was kept at bay. “Both the chief minister and his spokesman had lost confidence of each other,” a source said, adding: “The chief minister also stopped his spokesman from attending official meetings chaired by him since midst of April — some five months ago.”

Explaining the reasons that led to parting of ways, sources say a trust deficit between CM Buzdar and Dr Gill surfaced soon after the issuance of a notification in March this year that empowered the latter to “inspect all provincial departments and institutions of public service delivery across Punjab on chief minister’s behalf”.

Though sources close to developments claim that the decision for inspections was taken in the presence of Mr Buzdar, the chief executive later disowned his approval and termed it a principal secretary Dr Siddiqui-Dr Gill nexus. Though the notification was neither withdrawn nor de-notified, the spokesman did not go for inspection of any department due to chief minister’s displeasure. Dr Siddiqui was also soon replaced by Dr Shoaib Akbar.

It is learnt that CM Buzdar was not comfortable in allowing Dr Gill to continue representing him as his spokesman. He had gone to Islamabad to meet PM Khan soon after a meeting of the Punjab cabinet on Wednesday and in the meanwhile Dr Gill addressed a news conference that drew a strong reaction from the party workers following his remarks that those who do not like Mr Buzdar as chief minister should leave the party. Some Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders believed that Dr Gill had addressed the presser on the instruction of the prime minister to convey his message.

Following a nod by the prime minister, the sources say, the Punjab government decided to remove Dr Gill and issued a de-notification letter on Friday. “Chief Minister has been pleased to de-notify Mr Shahbaz Gill as official spokesperson of the Punjab chief minister with immediate effect,” reads the notification.

Dr Gill’s close aides claim that he had tendered his resignation to the chief minister in person on Thursday, but it was called by CM’s principal secretary Dr Shoaib Akbar on Friday to change the date from Sept 12 to 13.

Following the meeting with the prime minister, CM Buzdar had also met Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and discussed with the latter political and administrative matters in the province. Mr Elahi, who is currently holding the office of acting governor, assured the chief minister of allied party PML-Q’s support. In the meanwhile, CM Buzdar began making presence at different public meetings and facing media persons and wanted to assert his presence in the office of the Punjab chief executive.

New cabinet member

The Punjab government inducted MPA Malik Asad Ali Khokhar as provincial minister. Acting Governor Pervaiz Elahi administered the oath to the new cabinet member. A portfolio is yet to be allotted to him.

Sources believe that more changes in the Punjab cabinet are imminent. In the current situation, political circles see PTI’s senior leader Jahangir Khan Tareen’s arrival in Lahore and meeting with different provincial ministers as significant.

Besides changes at the political front, some senior bureaucrats were also shuffled in Punjab on Friday.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019