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ANALYSIS: PPP’s Buzdar Model?

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After the 2024 elections, when the stage for government formation was set at the centre, the People’s Party and Muslim League-N decided to form a government together, breaking the back of bargaining by all smaller parliamentary groups.

Under the power-sharing formula, Asif Ali Zardari became the President of Pakistan, and Shahbaz Sharif became the Prime Minister. The People’s Party did not take any ministries in the federal cabinet, however, they received positions including the Chairman of the Senate, and the governorships in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

After three months of waiting, the process of appointing governors is now nearly complete, with the People’s Party nominating Sardar Saleem Haider for Punjab and Faisal Karim Kundi for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When the People’s Party makes high-level appointments, these are significant and contain a clear message about national and party politics. These appointments also give a good sense of the party’s priorities.

The nomination of Sardar Saleem Haider as the Governor of Punjab was a surprise. Initially, the top name for the Punjab governorship was Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood, a prominent personality from Southern Punjab, who previously served as Punjab’s governor during 2012-2013.

Alongside him, the senior party leader Qamar Zaman Kaira’s name was also being strongly considered. According to party sources, Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood was Asif Ali Zardari’s choice, while Qamar Zaman Kaira was favored by Bilawal Bhutto.

In addition, Nadeem Afzal Chan was a strong candidate. During this period, Zaka Ashraf also entered the race. However, Sardar Saleem Haider emerged as a dark horse.

Sardar Saleem Haider was elected as a Member of the National Assembly from Attock on the People’s Party ticket in 2008 and subsequently served as the Minister of State for Defense Production.

He was initially reluctant to run in the 2024 elections, but the party leadership compelled him to participate. Now, he has grabbed the governorship of the country’s largest province.

The internal party circles were also surprised by Saleem Haider’s appointment. The main purpose of securing the governorship of Punjab in the power-sharing formula was to reorganise and revitalise the party in Punjab, which had been politically suffering for the past two decades.

The aforementioned names were considered in this context. Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood holds a remarkably strong political background and significant influence over the electoral politics of Southern Punjab, from where the party has also secured seats.

Qamar Zaman Kaira is recognized for his intellectual yet public-friendly persona, while Nadeem Afzal Chan is a darling among the party faithful. The potential of transforming the Governor’s House into a hub for party activists was indicated with their possible nominations.

Both individuals have been active in negotiations and alignments with other parties and are respected by political factions opposed to the PPP, yet they were ultimately bypassed for Sardar Saleem Haider.

Although not part of the People’s Party central leadership, Sardar Saleem Haider currently serves as the president of the People’s Party division in Rawalpindi, his political activity largely confined to one constituency in Attock.

He has close familial ties with former PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar and maintains a good rapport with the current Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi, who is a highly trusted associate of President Asif Zardari. Saleem Haider has also always been in the good books of Asif Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur.

Saleem Haider’s appointment as Governor of Punjab, if surprising, is also seen as a friendly gesture towards the PML-N. It will be a significant challenge for him, especially in reviving the PPP’s presence in Punjab, a task that the party leadership and supporters have high hopes for from the Governor’s House.

In the past, Salmaan Taseer Shaheed had transformed the Governor’s House into a stronghold for the PPP, a necessity of the times, but today, the nature of the alliance with the PML-N requires that the Governor of Punjab navigate his role with great acumen to ensure effective power-sharing.

Critics of the decision are calling Sardar Saleem Haider inexperienced, but often, great responsibilities can bring out new facets in a person’s character. It remains to be seen how Saleem Haider will rise to this challenge, whether he will be the PPP’s Buzdar or refresh memories of a dynamic governor like Salman Taseer.

Faisal Karim Kundi’s appointment as Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was anticipated from the start, so his appointment was not an unusual event. However, it is interesting to note that both the current Chief Minister and the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not only come from the same city, Dera Ismail Khan, but also contested the same electoral constituency, NA-44, in the general elections.

In 2024 elections, Faisal Karim Kundi lost to PTI’s Ali Amin Gandapur, just as the significant political figure Maulana Fazlur Rahman had previously been defeated by Gandapur in this constituency. With the PPP’s nomination of Faisal Karim Kundi for governor, they have sent a clear message to both PTI and Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

Additionally, keep in mind that for Faisal Karim Kundi’s nomination as governor, Governor KP Haji Ghulam Ali whose son Fayaz Ali is the son-in-law of JUI-F leader Fazal-ur-Rehman has been removed. Haji Ghulam Ali had met Nawaz Sharif in Lahore just a few days prior, possibly in an attempt to save his governorship, but Faisal Karim Kundi’s nomination has effectively negated those discussions.

This move reflects the PPP’s strategic positioning post-election, emphasizing their intent to consolidate power and influence in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through these significant appointments, which also suggests their broader national aspirations and the expected dynamics of their coalition with PML-N.

 

Javed Farooqi
Javed Farooqi
The writer is senior journalist and political analyst based in Lahore.

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