An Interview with Mian Shahbaz Sharif Punjab ’s Khadam-e-Aala
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
Pittsburg , CA
Link's columnist Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry (left) interviews Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore
“These times of woe afford no times to woo” - Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet
Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab likes himself to be addressed as “Khadam-e-Aala”, and in all honesty, he deserves the title. The interview took place on a sad, foggy and fairly depressing evening on December 28, 2008, when my friend and former colleague, and a close associate of Mian brothers, Mr. Irfan Siddiqui, called me to get ready to see the Chief Minister.
I had already done my homework by personally meeting the “commoners”, the real, hard-working and poor people of Pakistan, for a month and a half, by practically living in their midst; by traveling all the time without any exception in rickshaws and wobbling taxis, and by personally obtaining answers to such questions as, “What do you think about Mian Shahbaz Sharif as CM?...Is Mian Shahbaz Sharif sincere and honest in his efforts to do something for you people?”.
I deliberately avoided asking them any political questions, because I was simply not interested in knowing much about him as a politician of the Punjab. My focus during my stay in Pakistan had been on gaining first-hand knowledge about the performance of those who never get tired of asking people to “put their barns in their charge”. I wanted to know from these people how Mian Shahbaz Sharif as Chief Minister of Punjab, and his mode of governance, ranked in their estimation. In 99% cases, the answer that came from these people about Mian Shahbaz Sharif had been positive, a rare phenomenon, an unbelievable exception. These rustic, but hardworking people before answering my question, first prayed about his long life, and then invariably registered their approval and appreciation of his performance.
It was Sunday, but the CM was still in his office. He, no doubt, met me warmly with a hug and with a broad smile, but he looked tired and somewhat burnt out. The interview lasted for more than 45 minutes. While answering some of my questions, Mian Sahib appeared, more or less, like an obsessed man, infused with a passion and position, to change the world in the minimum amount of time; a man in haste, as if running out of time. After the interview as I walked with my wife towards the car, I remember telling her, “This man is killing himself for others. He needs rest, which I am sure, he won’t take”. As I learned in the morning, the same night he felt some pain in his chest, and was rushed to the hospital.
Question: “If you were allowed to do only one thing in Pakistan; what could that one thing be in your order of priorities?”
Answer: “An independent Judiciary. It is vital and it is the only solution to most of our problems. People vote for us mainly for three things/reasons. One, to have the rule of law and justice for all; second, an independent judiciary, leading towards a sound economy. And this economic prosperity, ultimately leading them towards self-reliance. An independent judiciary, thus, is the real key towards the attainment of real independence, an independence which remains incomplete without economic prosperity; and thirdly reforms in the police force because a corrupt police force easily frustrates and nullifies the above two cherished dreams.”
Question: “You mentioned independent judiciary, self-reliance and sound economy as vital components of good governance. What magical wand, you think, you possess by using which you can hope to achieve these ideals in the current corrupt set-up?”
Answer: “By revolutionizing agriculture. 70% of Punjab is agro-based, but its potential is not fully exploited. Our per acre yield is dismally low as compared to other developing countries, especially India. Our Research and Development field remains neglected. Knowledge about how other countries with similar geology and social conditions manage to garner the maximum yield per acre needs to be incorporated. Awareness is the main thing.
Second: after agriculture, another field that remains neglected and that has great potential for expansion is livestock. We should be the 4 th milk producing country in the world, but we are not..
Thirdly: Population growth; it is engulfing fast whatever little economic progress the country makes.
Question: “How do you visualize the future of Pakistan?”
Answer: “The future of Pakistan, indeed, is beset with challenges. Pakistan is confronted with huge difficulties. On the North/Eastern borders, we are in a state of war due to insurgency. Economic crunch is further aggravated by the international slum. The national mood is also not in line with the international perceptions.
“But, then leadership is about facing the challenges. “Visionary leadership sees great opportunities in adversities… it is such leadership that can make the best out of the worst… by meeting these challenges, and by not evading them…through collective wisdom and by chalking out a clear cut road-map of how to revive the economy, and the trust of people.”
“Revival of the economy is not possible without cutting the fat, by which I mean:
- adopting austerity, by tightening our belts,
- by conserving our resources,
- by providing easy-access to health-care for all,
- by providing good and quality education to all, and,
- of course, by having an independent judiciary.
Question: “Why don’t people in Pakistan, even if highly placed, feel proud as Pakistanis?”
Answer: ”People take pride in Pakistan, only their frustration is misread. Love of Pakistan runs in their blood. They, of course, are unhappy with the judicial system; with the law and order situation, and the way merit remains by-passed. Corruption in the police force, up to the level of Police Stations where people interact first is what frustrates them most. Unfortunately, the police, bureaucracy and politicians, all are in harmony with one another.
“So, people’s frustration is with these eye-sores, not with Pakistan as a country. If they are angry and unhappy, and if they give vent to their pent-up feelings through expressions which get interpreted as anti-Pakistan feelings (as you may have read them); all this basically is directed against the system, and not against Pakistan. People want action, and not mere rhetoric from those who govern them”.
Mr. Abid Mahmood, a small industrialist from Lahore confirmed my findings about Mian Shahbaz Sharif when he said, “Visit any hospital run by the government. You will find them clean and efficient. My own visit to a cardiac center in the emergency ward when I felt some chest pain reminded me of any hospital in Canada where I had lived for years. All necessary care, including EKG tests and medicine were provided to me free of any charge. I felt myself in safe hands”. The same was confirmed by Mr. Butta, my neighbor.
I myself saw encroachments getting removed without accepting any pressure. Traffic jams being tackled by an efficient and fairly honest traffic police consisting of educated, young men; qabza mafia getting destroyed; efforts to improve law and order situation gaining momentum; the break-up tabulation of 4 ½ billion rupees racket of corruption done by more than 26 Nazims in Punjab in the last three years, and its publication in the newspapers being remembered as laudable steps. The people of Rawalpindi saw five mega project approved, which included expansion of the Rawalpindi Medical College, construction of cardiac urology institutions, and a burns center and a children ward. The Rose cinema in Raja Bazaar that had remained closed for some time, and that could have become another shopping plaza, in one stroke from the CM became annexed to the District Hospital.
It is unfortunate that the good governance in Punjab is being viewed by the PPP as a kind of anathema to its own popularity in the province. A peaceful and prosperous Punjab means a happy and prosperous Pakistan. The presence of a watch-dog/spoiler in the form of a hostile governor in Punjab is not perceived by the people as a good sign for the province as well as for Pakistan because Punjab is to Pakistan what California is to America.
Dr. Ajmal Niazi in his January 1 2009 column, “The Replacement of Shahbaz Sharif” rightly points out: “PPP virtually has no person of the caliber of Shahbaz Sharif, certainly not in the persons of Rana Aftab or Sanaullah. And Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is not effective even as FM, he cannot be effective as CM… Shahbaz Sharif is a capable administrator. He is remembered for his remarkable accomplishments in his first tenure. He has some big obstacles as well. He must watch the sycophants that are encircling him”.
Stephen Cohen, in his book, “The Idea of Pakistan”, on page 149 confirms people’s perception when he calls Shahbaz Sharif, “… perhaps more capable and certainly more articulate…”. On page 184, Cohen further underpins his sharpness and foresight when he acknowledges “the madrassah problem was identified in Nawaz’s second term by his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, then Punjab’s chief minister. He developed a plan to rein the schools in”. On page 246, Cohen highlights another great initiative undertaken by Mian Shahbaz Sharif with a view to attaining credibility and excellence in the field of education. He writes, “It also proposed a contract system for faculty members, and standardized admission tests… these recommendations were implemented in Punjab for medical schools while Shahbaz Sharif was chief minister, but not elsewhere”.
Christina Lamb in her book, “Waiting for Allah”, on page 176 calls “Shebaz Sharif, the likeable younger brother…” and Hassan Abbas in his well-researched book, “ Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism”, on page 135 acknowledges, “The youngster was exceptionally sharp…” But being likeable, intelligent, sharp and popular is not enough. Far more intelligent people in Pakistan have gone to the gallows. Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s charisma is that he knows how to deliver. It is in this zest that he often stands accused of over-doing. A good amount of his criticism comes from quarters that belong to the well-to-do segment of society, or who are in direct contact with him due to their job assignments.
The negatives that they voiced had been:
- Competent people do not want to work with him…8 secretaries have refused to be a part of his administration and they have opted to move out.
- Secretary Forest was asked because he refused to clean a dustbin, which is not his job. The CM demeans the heads in front of their subordinates.
- Cardiac centers constructed by the previous government are now being stalled because as is alleged, these centers had been created after gaining graft. Political victimization is rampant.
- Things are done to show off… to expand his voting base for the next elections.
- In one case, some 4286 schools were ordered to have computer laboratories in high schools. The CM started holding fortnightly meetings about the progress, giving just 125 days to complete the work. The CM does not understand the extent of work, or that it requires phase-wise planning and progress,
- Holds meetings at Jallo Park, and not in the civil secretariat, simply because he deems it fit to do so. In one instance, he took some 28 Secretaries to Faisalabad with him, and kept them there for seven days. This kept their respective departments without a head.
- In many cases, funds get released, not on the first of July which is the due date, but in September. This delays the projects.
Even Ayaz Amir, a well-known columnist and MNA, in one of his columns cautions the CM about his practice of holding too many meetings. It is highly laudable that Mian Shahbaz Sharif is one such CM who governs by example, and by being himself in the front, but a good shepherd does not lead his flock from the front. As would say Nelson Mandela, “Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front”, could be a good piece of advice.