According to news reports, recently the Prime Minister agreed that the MPA development fund in Punjab would be renewed.
The conversation between Jehangir Tareen, Pervez Elahi and others leaked over the weekend was more a storm in a teacup than real news.
Who doesn’t know that Punjab operates with a weak chief minister and multiple power centres? And that the Chaudhries of Gujarat are one power centre, and an important one at that? And given that Tareen was in their party once, it’s no surprise that they would be talking to him about their differences with Chaudhry Sarwar.
But the leaked conversation has highlighted the real story from Punjab — news stories following the controversy explained that the complaints of the PML-Q’s Tariq Bashir Cheema were about the interference of the governor in “transfers and postings”.
However, the PTI government wasn’t going to be doing the politics of transfers and postings. That is what we had been promised. And this is the real story of Punjab — the PTI’s struggle to balance its reform agenda and power politics.
Imran Khan wants to deliver local government and an independent, autonomous police force to Punjab but those around him fear that in the process, the party may lose its tenuous grip on the province. For the PTI may have formed the government in Punjab but its victory in the province is far from complete. And this is not just about the numbers in the Provincial Assembly where the PTI and PML-N are neck and neck; it’s about how the party will be able to maintain these seats and win more in the next election. July was more a case of the PML-N losing the election in Punjab than the PTI winning it. Nawaz Sharif’s friction with the military, his efforts to up the ante and the conflict that followed sent the message that the party was in no position to win — despite this, the PTI just about managed to form a government in Lahore (with the help of allies).
And no one can guarantee the PTI can repeat this “act” come the next election because the PML-N may or may not be facing a similar assault from the powers that be.
According to news reports, recently the Prime Minister agreed that the MPA development fund in Punjab would be renewed. Skittish parliamentarians, it is said, convinced Khan that without generous spending of state funds, they were in danger of losing the war to the PML-N, despite having won the 2018 battle.
For Pakistani politicians, winning hearts and minds cannot happen without doling out state funds for facilities that should traditionally be the headache of the local government. The current local government system is dominated by the PML-N and its cronies. And many in Punjab, in government at present, are not sure if the party would be able to win the local level elections if a new local government system is introduced. Some go so far as to say that the purana fears have already out-argued the naya idea of empowered local governments for the time being. That for the time being, the old system of parliamentarians spending on local affairs should continue till there is greater confidence that the elections at the local level will yield a naya Pakistani.
It is hard to pooh-pooh such accounts because politicians have never been comfortable handing over spending and thana-katchehry matters to the local level. Even Pervez Musharraf failed at this.
Hence, it is not hard to believe that if such a debate is going on in the PTI, its proponents will eventually win over Khan because this is how political parties function. Power or rather winning power takes precedence over reform. After all, Khan first opted for this principle when he chose “electables” to win the elections.
No wonder then that little has been heard of police reforms, another PTI mantra. Since the fiasco called Pakpattan, the transfer of IG of Punjab and the subsequent resignation of Nasir Durrani from the Punjab Police Reforms Commission, the party seems to have put the issue aside. Perhaps, here too the exigencies of power have convinced Khan to wait a while to build naya Pakistan.
But the challenge will be to balance the needs of power with the reform agenda, instead of picking one over to the other. To abandon the latter entirely will not help Khan in the long run. If he doesn’t lay down a brick or two of naya Pakistan, he might not continue to win elections in a purana Punjab.
By arrangement with Dawn