Punjab crisis

Published December 1, 2022

ADMINISTRATIVE chaos has ruled Punjab ever since the ouster of the PTI government in April, deepening the province’s governance crisis that has its roots in the set-up of former chief minister Usman Buzdar. The PTI’s latest decision to dissolve the governments in Punjab and KP, and resign from the other assemblies, in order to force the ruling alliance to hold early elections, will likely worsen the administrative turmoil in the province. PTI chief Imran Khan had announced his plans to quit parliament on the eve of the change of guard in the army, after he failed to get a date for early polls and an army chief of his choice even after months of campaigning on the streets. With the ruling PDM considering different options, including a vote of no-confidence against Chief Minister Parvez Elahi and governor’s rule, the PTI plan is feared to increase political and administrative turbulence.

How bad the administrative crisis is can be gauged from the fact that the province has had 28 higher education department secretaries, 10 primary and secondary secretaries and eight specialised health secretaries in the last four years under the PTI. In addition, there have been six chief secretaries and nine police chiefs. In the last eight months, we have seen that no bureaucrat or police officer worth their salt is prepared to serve in the top positions as chief secretary and IGP. Lately, these officers have proceeded on long leave. Almost every transfer and posting for important administrative and police positions is reportedly made on the recommendations of the PTI and PML-Q legislators and directly handled by the chief minister’s office.

Punjab comprises half the country’s population, and developments in the province influence how the rest of Pakistan fares politically and financially. With the bureaucracy under a cloud of uncertainty and senior officers apprehensive about their fate, provincial decision-making has been relegated to the back burner. It is not surprising to see governance suffer so much in recent months, despite the formation of a relatively stable government following high political drama in the provincial assembly during the election of the chief minister. It remains uncertain if Mr Khan can force early elections by quitting the legislatures and dissolving the Punjab and KP assemblies. What is certain though is that the move will aggravate the political and administrative chaos in the country in general and Punjab in particular, with governance suffering hugely. In a democracy, the place of a popular party like the PTI is in parliament. Whether or not elections are called early — this paper has suggested that they should be — the PTI should consider staying in the system and using it as the platform for its political demands. With governments in two provinces, it will have plenty of opportunities to serve its voters by improving governance to boost its electoral chances.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2022

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