By Aamir Latif/Anadolu
–Imran Khan’s party struggles to overshadow three-time Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif with its ‘dark horse’
LAHORE: Sitting in wooden chairs outside a shop in Bhaati Gate area of Pakistan’s Lahore city, a group of shopkeepers is engaged in discussion on politics.
The street is dotted with life-size banners and portraits of the three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, the three-time chief minister of Punjab, the country’s most populous and richest province.
The two brothers are currently behind the bars but they still dominate the politics in Punjab, mainly its capital Lahore — the country’s political powerbase — though Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) narrowly managed to form the provincial government after July general elections.
Khan’s choice for the chief ministership of Punjab — home to nearly 120 million people — is an inexperienced, little-known and calm Usman Buzdar, completely opposite to an agile and a tough administrator like Shehbaz.
Buzdar’s nomination has drawn a widespread criticism, even from the PTI supporters, who do not view him enough to match a political giant like Shehbaz.
A video recently went viral on social media showing a Punjab government official introducing Buzdar to an elderly woman during his visit to a local village: “Amma, (mother) he (Buzdar) is the one (chief minister) who Shehbaz Sharif was previously.”
However, Buzdar’s supporter, mainly Khan dub him a “dark horse” who imbeds the potential to overshadow Shehbaz’s three-terms — widely hailed for development of Punjab, especially in Lahore, the country’s second largest city and the cultural hub.
PIONEER OF TODAY’S LAHORE:
Shehbaz — currently the opposition leader in the National Assembly and President of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML(N)] — is viewed as the pioneer of today’s Lahore, the most modern and developed city after capital Islamabad.
Many recall his three terms as Chief Minister — from 1997 to 1999, 2008 to 2013, and 2013 to 2018 — as an era of infrastructural development in Punjab, particularly Lahore.
He is particularly admired for development of communication and transportation system across the province, including small and rural areas.
His opponents, however, accuse him of concentrating on the central Punjab, mainly Lahore only, and neglecting the southern Punjab — a less developed region in the province — during his three terms.
Buzdar, the current chief minister and, hails from Dera Ghazi Khan, a remote district of southern Punjab.
“There is no comparison between Shehbaz and other chief ministers. He [Shehbaz] has actually made the present-day Lahore,” Mohammad Laiq, a grocer at Delhi Gate, told Anadolu Agency.
“We really miss him,” he said enumerating several development projects launched and completed during Shehbaz era in Lahore, including a mega metro bus and an ongoing Orange Train projects.
Salman Ali, a sweets seller at Bhaatti Gate, said: “Shehbaz Sharif and Lahore are inseparable. Like every human being, he was a mix of bad and good, but no doubt he has served us.”
The PTI government, for its part, accuses Shehbaz of choosing big development projects, like metro bus and train, to earn “kickbacks”.
It, though, has announced to continue work on Orange Train project following a Supreme Court’s intervention; however, the work on this and many other projects, is continuing at a snail pace, inviting criticism from citizens who have been facing regular traffic jams.
NO REASON TO MISS SHEHBAZ:
Zohaib Ahmed, who works with an online taxi service, says he has no reason to miss Shehbaz.
“Why should I miss him? Just because his government constructed some roads, bridges or metro bus. I don’t think these are enough reasons to miss him,” he told Anadolu Agency.
However, Ahemd, a staunch PTI supporter, agreed that Buzdar is not a good choice to eclipse Shehbaz’s charisma.
Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan out rightly dismisses the impression about Shehbaz’s “good governance”.
“This is absolutely wrong that he (Shehbaz) was a good administrator. In fact, he was a very poor administrator, who lacked financial and administrative transparency during his three tenures”, Chohan told Anadolu Agency.
“Usman Buzdar is a calm but a better administrator. Some people doubt his administrative capabilities just because he does not beat his chest like Shehbaz Sharif,” he added.
Shehbaz is currently in custody of the corruption watchdog — National Accountability Bureau — in connection with a housing scam. Hamza Shehbaz, Shehbaz Sharif’s son and the opposition leader in Punjab Assembly, is also facing inquiries in connection with multiple corruption cases.
Despite the arrests and clear opposition from the establishment, PML(N) placed second in general elections this July, securing 82 seats in the 342-seat lower house.
The party bounced back in by-elections in October, clinching some key seats won by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections. It included a seat won by Khan himself from Lahore in July.
Lahore has long been a PML(N)’s stronghold. However, in the last two general elections — 2013 and 2018 — the PTI emerged as a potential threat to the PML(N). But, the PML(N) yet managed to clinch a majority of Lahore constituencies.
In the 2018 elections, the PML(N) secured 10 out of 14 National Assembly seats, whereas the reaming constituencies were clinched by the PTI.
Amjad Iqbal, a Lahore-based analyst, observes that Shehbaz’s footprints are “deep and strong” in Punjab which are not easy to remove or replace.
“No doubt, he is one of the popular and longest serving chief ministers in Punjab’s history. Agility, decision-making and his grip on administrative affairs were his forte,” Iqbal told Anadolu Agency.
“For an apparently inactive, and less experienced Buzdar, it will be a Herculean task to compete with Shehbaz”, he opined.
Recent economic mishaps, which include a massive depreciation in rupee (local currency) against U.S dollar, soaring commodity prices, and gas and power outages, which otherwise are federal subjects, have also added to the growing chorus of criticism against Buzdar.
“He is a bit unlucky as well,” Iqbal added..