Trouble in Punjab

January 28, 2020

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PRIME Minister Imran has reportedly said an ‘organised mafia’ is spreading negativity and crippling positive administrative changes in the country and that he is well aware who this mafia is.

Meeting with party members in Lahore, the prime minister said his party would take no pressure and Usman Buzdar would continue to work as the chief minister of Punjab. He was also emphatic in saying the chief secretary and IG police would work as a team with the chief minister.

The prime minister’s visit to Lahore came at a time when there is a growing perception that Usman Buzdar’s government is failing to perform and is suffering from political instability.

Recent grumblings from key allies like the PML-Q have fanned the flames of dissension within the Punjab coalition ranks. The prime minister was expected to resolve these issues through personal intervention and take decisions aimed at stopping the plunging fortunes of the Buzdar government.

Instead, however, the prime minister decided to blame ‘mafias’ for all the troubles that his government is facing in Punjab. He did not deem it necessary to elaborate on who these mafias are, how they are so effective in creating problems plaguing the Buzdar government and why they have not been stopped from making such mischief.

In fact, the prime minister did not even specify if he had any plans to counter these ‘mafias’ and, in the absence of such a plan, how would these troubles swirling around his chief minister disappear?

The only substantive announcement that we heard was that Buzdar would stay in office and that the political disconnect between the elected representatives and the bureaucracy would be eliminated.

These are pious words, but words alone are clearly insufficient to solve the governance quagmire in Punjab.

It would be a hard sell for the PTI leadership to blame the opposition for its failure in Punjab. All that is going wrong in Punjab is a by-product of what the ruling coalition has done or, more specifically, not done.

Now that the prime minister has announced that his team will remain where it is in Punjab, one expects that he will tell us how this team plans to improve the dismal situation in the province. Doing more of the same, or aiming for vague targets like ‘better coordination’, is clearly not the answer.

The answer, sadly, remains elusive. The ruling coalition has a razor-thin majority in the Punjab assembly, and if the allies run out of patience with the Buzdar government, they could exercise options that may pose serious danger to the chief minister.

The PML-Q has said it does not want to walk out from the coalition, but that does not mean all is well. The prime minister might want to absorb the gravity of the situation in Punjab and come up with specific solutions.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020