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Opposition finds kindred spirit in PM’s son-in-law

ISLAMABAD: A tug of war is brewing between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) bigwigs and the powerful bureaucrats calling the shots at the Prime Minister’s Office on account of the party leadership’s seemingly increasing reliance on the latter while dealing with different issues.

Background discussions with PML-N circles and federal government sources have revealed that the prime minister is mainly consulting a handful of close confidantes, most of them bureaucrats, leading to a growing feeling of being ‘left out’ of decision-making among senior party figures. “From development schemes, provision of development funds to lawmakers to field visits anywhere — and at times, even political issue the bureaucrats have the last laugh and the political lot feels bypassed,” said a source with direct knowledge of the issue.

The gravity of the situation can be judged from the fact that a request by PML-N bigwigs, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law Captain (retd) Safdar, to the premier sometime back to replace the PM Office bureaucracy was turned down, credible sources said. The supposed development could explain why Safdar slammed the premier’s personal staff – particularly PM’s Secretary Fawad Hassan – in a rare outburst in the National Assembly last month. “An individual is calling the shots and making promotions according to his own desires,” Safdar had said while accusing Fawad of influencing top level transfers, postings and promotions. Interestingly, both government and opposition lawmakers supported Safdar’s stance.

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Safdar’s relations with the Sharif family, including the prime minister, and top PM Office officials have been sore since that episode, Prime Minister’s House sources said. “Those who know the prime minister have a very clear idea that he is too adamant to be deterred by public criticism. That the outburst came from one of his family members has simply added fuel to fire. He [Safdar} is not having good time these days,” a source shared.

A source said the PM Office bureaucracy also effectively froze the release of over Rs250 million a powerful PML-N lawmaker had requested for development in his constituency even the premier had approved the request and ordered his personal staff to make necessary arrangements. Panicked, the legislator approached Safdar for the release of funds, who took up the issue with the PM’s staff but the matter stood unresolved.

“This is when the differences deepened and things headed to a boiling point,” the insider said. It was only after the said lawmaker, along with Safdar, managed to meet the prime minister again that the funds were finally released, the source added.

PM’s Advisor and senior PML-N leader Amir Muqam said the issue was “blown out of proportions.” “The PM Office comprises a dedicated team which includes PM’s political aides and seasoned bureaucrats. That government servants are so powerful that they have started bypassing the politicians does not make sense. There may be petty issues but such issues are everywhere, in every office. No need to play up the things.” Asked about Safdar’s outburst in NA against PM’s secretary, he said, “These may be the views of an individual, not the whole party.”

PML-N Chairman and Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, who is also regarded as one of prime minister’s close confidantes, said the rumours of internal differences were floated by elements who do not wish to see this government succeed. “We often come across rumours that PML-N is facing internal differences between party leaders— and that the N-Leaguers are at odds with federal bureaucracy. I really doubt if there is any shred of truth in these reports. All quarters are acting as one team under the prime minister’s leadership to make this government a thumping success. Our elaborate in developmental plans are a manifestation of this claim. Those elements that are shaken by our success are out to create rift in our ranks. They will fail,” he told The Express Tribune.

The Express Tribune tried to contact PM’s spokesman Musadik Malik for over a week to comment on the issue but he was not available. Capt (retd) Safdar also did not respond to a request for comments.

A top bureaucrat defended the bureaucracy’s style of functioning. “The politicians, they want every kind of favour, due or undue…it’s for us to see how far to go and where not to cross the line.”

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“We are approached on a daily basis by politicians from almost all the political parties to do things out of the way requests, bribes, intimidations, pressures, and references are a routine affair on this count, a politician can get away with anything… it’s the government servant that has to pay the price, eventually. It’s often deemed convenient to make a government servant a scapegoat to save a politician,” he added.

Political circles, however, argued otherwise. “It’s the other way around,” said an N-Leaguer. Referring to the stepping down of Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid in the infamous news leak saga in October, he cited initial media reports which made headlines that a senior bureaucrat assigned to press information was removed from his post in the same affair. The reports later proved wrong.

“A politician of the level of a federal minister had to step down. But powerful bureaucrats were given safe passage. The government floated rumours about the removal of a bureaucrat to defuse pressure. That baboo is very much in the saddle now,” he said. “Now, who is more powerful? Politicians or baboos?”

courtesy : Express Tribune

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