Champion of Failed Politics: Shahbaz
Sharif or Pervaiz Elahi?
By Syed Kamran
Westfield, IN
Is the law-and-order situation in Punjab
relatively better than the other provinces? Yes. Has it been governed more
effectively than all of them? Certainly, yes. Is the writ of the government more
established in Punjab? Yes. Is the provincial apparatus more organized to help
its people? Yes. Are education, health and communication, all of the vital
ministries of public interest, under the direct scrutiny of the chief minister
(CM)? Yes. Is the CM working hard to improve the efficacy of his administration?
Of course, yes. Is Lahore the focus of development with new and exciting
projects: roads, communication, universities and hospitals? Surely, yes to
Has the police culture changed in Punjab in recent years? No. Are there
any police reforms in place for future implementation? No. Is the power aptly
shared with the local governments? No. Is the independence of the bureaucracy to
perform well still being strangulated by the tight control of the political
administration? Yes. Is there any improvement in the criminal justice system?
No. Is the CM spending lavishly on personal security? Yes. Is his family,
including his brother, the former prime minister of Pakistan, and his son,
getting preferential treatment? Of course, yes. Are they getting special perks
and privileges? Yes. Does the CM represent change after five years in power? No.
Does he represent the status quo? Obviously, yes.
The above questionnaire,
contrary to what many of us may think, is not the scorecard of the current CM of
Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif (MSS). It is, in fact, the performance report of his
predecessor, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, an ambitious politician aspiring to become
the prime minister of Pakistan after the 2008 elections, who had worked hard
just like his successor to change the outlook of the province without bringing
any fundamental reforms in the rules of business. Both of them have used the
same strategy during their tenure to deliver some benefits to the people and win
big in central and northern Punjab, the most densely populated areas of
Pakistan. Both rely profoundly upon the bureaucracy to run the affairs of the
government. Both have multiple projects in their report cards to boast in their
television interviews. Both advertise their success heavily in newspapers with
their pictures on the front page almost every day about the developmental
schemes that they have not only initiated but have also effectively completed.
One has already lost the elections, while what happens to the other one we still
have to see.

Before the 2008 elections, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had openly
supported a military dictator; had announced to elect him as the president of
Pakistan ten more times (at least) in uniform; and had opposed the movement for
the restoration of the judges. However, he was still optimistic that the people
of his province would decide to vote for him based on his service and would
disregard his political affiliations.
But he was wrong. He underestimated the wisdom of the
people and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) performed poorly in the
elections. It was a big surprise for its leadership, who were expecting to
launch a close victory as the largest political party, or at least lose
gracefully to become the second largest party in the National Assembly. As they
could not fathom completely the reasons for the people’s abomination, they
started blaming General Musharraf by pointing fingers at the promulgation of the
emergency ruling, the operation in Laal Masjid, the approval of drone attacks,
the killings in Karachi on May 12, 2007, the escalating terrorism and the
plummeting economy. But the single most important reason that tied all of these
factors together and was repeatedly ignored by them was the people’s desire to
bring a fundamental change in the way the country had been governed. They failed
to notice that the people wanted to transform their country in favor of the rule
of law, democracy and justice so that Pakistan could be steered out of her deep
and multi-faceted crises smoothly without bloodshed.
After five years,
Shahbaz Sharif, just like his predecessor, unfortunately, has failed to
recognize that urge even though he talks about it frequently. In his tenure to
capture the media eye, he has come up with some fantastic ideas, steps that
would boost publicity but not help to ameliorate the decadent structure of
government. He has launched a disappointingly deceptive scheme of two rupees for
a roti (bread) without improving employment opportunities, the economy, or labor
conditions. He has set up Daanish Schools without improving the education
standard of thousands of government schools or regulating private institutions
at all. He has distributed thousands of laptops to students without the
groundwork of improving computer awareness in the province. In short, there is a
long list of controversial subjects, in which every issue can be debated for its
benefits and potential harm, the intentions of the CM and its emotional
significance for him. But we can all agree on one point: there has been no
institutional improvement in Punjab under Shahbaz Sharif, although it has been
better governed than the rest, like it was during Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s
The bottom line is clear: these self-projecting advertising tools are
not necessarily effective strategies to win elections. If they were, General
Musharraf and the PML-Q would have still been in power. In 2008, the PML-N had a
finger on the people’s pulse. It knew exactly the direction of the tsunami and
it was ready to ride on it and win even in the worst of circumstances. Today,
the tide is probably somewhere else while they have lost the ability to palpate
it. It might be stronger and faster than ever before. It might be coming
(The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at
@KamraanHashmi and can be reached at [email protected] )