Friday, January 30, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 31, 2015

Idealism and reality The ‘sudden’ resignation of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar did not come as a complete surprise. Reports had been circulating for many months about the Governor’s unhappiness. Some of that ‘dirt’ came out during his press conference on Thursday in which he delineated his reasons for quitting. The Governor said he felt powerless and helpless to do any of the things that had motivated him to accept the gubernatorial appointment in the first place. Amongst these things he mentioned his desire to bring about an end to inequality, barbarism, inflation, lawlessness, the power of the land mafia who he said were more powerful than any Governor, and contribute to education (he mentioned that 23 million children were still out of school in Punjab alone), health, clean drinking water, equal rights and the rule of law. Quite a menu, and for anyone familiar with the ground realities of the country, a well-intentioned but virtually impossible agenda from the platform of Governor of a province. Mr Sarwar had perhaps himself arrived at that conclusion after a few months in office since he confessed during an interview on television that perhaps his decision to accept the office of Governor was a mistake. Chaudhry Sarwar according to reports had difficulties working with Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, who not only has a reputation as a hands-on head of the provincial government, but also guards his turf assiduously. So much so that even an initiative by Chaudhry Sarwar to set up a clean drinking water project with the help of expatriate friends was perceived by the chief minister as stealing his thunder. He therefore sabotaged that initiative by starting a government project along the same lines, which put paid to the private initiative. The fact that Shahbaz Sharif started that project is not a bad thing from the perspective of the citizens of the province, but the timing and motivation indicate that it was not done for the most altruistic of motives. Shahbaz Sharif reportedly was not happy with ex-Governor Sarwar’s role in mediating with Tahirul Qadri at the latter’s insistence during the diversion of Qadri's flight to Lahore drama. Nor did Sarwar’s meeting with Altaf Hussain in London without the prime minister’s consent go down well. Contradictions and conflict between the Governor and chief minister have also been reported on, for example, running Aitcheson College and other issues. These differences reportedly led to the Governor’s powers and wings being clipped. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the criticism by Governor Sarwar of the failure of the government’s foreign policy reflected in US President Obama’s visit to India while ignoring Pakistan. In principle, such comments did not fall within the Governor’s purview, but this may have been partly frustration on his part and partly intended to provide the exit he seemed to have decided on. The episode of Chaudhry Sarwar’s induction and departure by the leadership of the PML-N points to certain lessons. Sarwar had been kind to the Sharifs in exile, which may have won him their favour. However, what Sarwar was perhaps not fully cognizant of or sensitive to was the Sharifs’ proven record of demanding loyalty above all else. Dissidence, and that too publicly, is a no-no in the Sharifs’ playbook. The fact that Sarwar played a role in getting Pakistan the coveted GSP Plus by using his contacts in the European parliament proved insufficient when weighed against his ‘sins’ in the Sharifs’ eyes. If proof of this assertion of the Sharifs’ rule that loyalty counts above all else is needed, one only has to glance at the contrast between the treatment of the Governor and certain blue-eyed federal ministers. Whereas the former may have been guilty in the Sharifs’ eyes of not being sufficiently loyal and docile, the latter have literally got away with blue murder in the energy and petrol crises and are still being protected. Chaudhry Sarwar’s future is now up for grabs. If he chooses to enter the political fray (for which the rules say he will have to wait before being able to seek elected office), an inclination he has mutedly indicated, there are at least two parties that are takers waiting in the wings: PPP and PTI. The only problem is whether, if Chaudhry Sarwar still carries the flame of the reforms dear to his heart within his breast, such parties can provide the enabling platform he seeks.

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