Punjab in limbo

Published May 12, 2022

THE needlessly drawn-out tussle over the control of Punjab is starting to resemble the unending finale of a sour absurdist comedy.

Governance in the country’s most populous province has been turned into a farce thanks to the PML-N and the PTI-PML-Q combine. Both rivals are laying claim to the offices of the governor and chief executive. The fight has created multiple constitutional crises, with no legal clarity anymore on who is supposed to be reporting to whom, and who has the legal authority to call the shots in which matters.

With the announcement of a new provincial cabinet delayed until a governor sympathetic to the PML-N takes charge, the entire province remains in limbo.

Meanwhile, the prime minister and his son — the newly minted Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz — may have erred out of frustration when the president and the recently ousted Punjab governor refused to accept the new incumbents. In forcing Omar Sarfraz Cheema out of office, they have resorted to measures that some believe overstep the law and that could trigger a fresh challenge.

On the other hand, the PTI-PML-Q alliance seems to be deliberately nurturing the crisis for its own political ends, all the while calling on the judiciary and the military to intervene in matters that should have been democratically resolved.

Read: Punjab sinks deeper into political ‘quicksand’

As this sordid drama plays out, both parties seem to have little care for the actual needs of the people. Just as Nero famously fiddled while Rome burned, our political leaders seem oblivious to the fact that severe water shortages are wreaking untold misery on the people of south Punjab and threatening an agricultural crisis that is likely to pile on even more economic pain than what is already expected in the months ahead.

The immensity of the challenges facing the people of Pakistan at the moment ought to have had a sobering effect on any party hoping to take responsibility for them. One would have expected that the importance of loyalty to kin and country being preached from the pulpit every day would by now have translated to tangible measures to serve the people, even if at the expense of political capital here and there.

Sadly, our parties’ obsession with seizing or keeping their political offices betrays a lack of ability to lead during a crisis. Commonality of purpose may now be too much to hope for in a nation that has become so bitterly polarised by political affiliations that it would rather watch itself burn than make any attempt to unify for the common good.

One hopes that a time may not be visited on this country when the political leadership belatedly realises that its failure to build bridges cost the people of Pakistan dearly. For now, it is a pity that this is the leadership we have to settle for in these tumultuous times.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022

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