Power resides where men believe it resides, a wise counsel tells his dwarf friend in one of the most popular shows on television in recent years. Ask Sardar Usman Buzdar, chief minister of the most powerful province of Pakistan, and he is likely to agree. For most men (and women) do not believe it resides with Buzdar who, in his own words, never even dreamt of becoming Punjab’s chief executive. There could not have been another in such steep contrast to his predecessor Shehbaz Sharif who is seen – and sees himself – as undiluted royalty, masked under the euphemism of ‘chief servant’ as he had designated himself. But stranger things have happened.
There would have been many hoping to be rewarded for their loyalty and proximity to Imran Khan. The federal information minister hinted at being one of them. The foreign minister was another contender. Factionalism within the party is perhaps why the chief ministers of both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the two provinces where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is in power, are little known personalities with nothing to show by way of merit or experience for the job at hand. Even Imran Khan’s video message to nominate Buzdar consisted of a winding explanation about him being an ordinary Pakistani representing the aspirations of an ordinary Pakistani. It smelled of compromise.
Buzdar’s namesake clan originated from the Rind tribe of the Baloch, with most of its members settled in the mountainous region of Dera Ghazi Khan. Their name comes from the Persian word ‘Buz’ meaning goat. One of the first photographs of Buzdar that circulated in the media following news of his nomination as the chief minister featured a hill in the background dotted with sheep. His new role, however, requires him not to be a shepherd at all.
From his first month in office, it would seem that this is a job left for his handlers – those who plant aides to whisper responses in his ear at press conferences – so that the chief minister can attend to more important matters of taking his family on joyrides on a government jet. Seraiki poet, activist and fellow tribesman Ashiq Buzdar’s poem thus stands vindicated yet again: “Asaan qaidi takht Lahore de (we are prisoners of the throne in Lahore).” Buzdar is subservient to the very throne he occupies.
Uncertainty stalks him. He sits on a roost that many say he is only keeping warm for someone else. His cabinet is full of strongmen who enjoy a better and more personal rapport with Prime Minister Imran Khan. And as an administrator, he has had a shaky start. Even before he took oath as chief Minister, reports surfaced about Buzdar having paid blood money over a murder case wherein six men were killed in gunfire on an election day in 1998. While one news organisation claimed the case was actually registered against a namesake of Buzdar, the chief minister’s family has not contested the payment of blood money.
Days after Buzdar assumed office, there was another fiasco. The district police officer of Pakpattan was transferred overnight over an alleged altercation with the first lady’s former husband, Khawar Maneka. The chief minister reportedly ordered the transfer at the behest of a friend of Maneka’s who was accused of threatening the said police officer in Buzdar’s presence. The apex court soon took notice and the chief minister was bludgeoned into apologising unconditionally.
If it were optics indeed that brought Buzdar to Lahore – to appease the backwaters of south Punjab till more concrete steps are taken by way of promises to address its grievances – the obverse could not have been more apparent. He does not seem to believe he belongs at the top and is thus unlikely to effect any meaningful change. Just as there have been others before him from the region. Chief minister Ghulam Mustafa Khar, president Farooq Leghari and prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani all hailed from south Punjab but the region’s people continue to live on the fringes of development.
This article was published in the Herald's October 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.