“No one in the Pakistani government is interested in change”

Published: January 30, 2015

He surrendered his UK passport in the hope of giving something back to his country of birth. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

He surrendered his UK passport in the hope of giving something back to his country of birth. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA He surrendered his UK passport in the hope of giving something back to his country of birth. PHOTO: INP

So, Chaudhary Mohammad Sarwar has finally resigned as the governor of Punjab. This has not been exactly unexpected. Rumours had been circulated for many months that he was deeply unhappy with those that surrounded him at the top of Pakistan’s political power structure. I can also explain just why he has become so disillusioned.

My first experience in high-level policy making taught me an invaluable lesson about Pakistani politics. Many years ago, when I was but a wide-eyed PhD researcher starting my fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School, I managed to secure a private meeting with a Pakistan cabinet minister who was visiting the school. During our brief meeting, I excitedly presented him with a number of very simple ideas on education reform and tackling illiteracy, and asked his assistance in getting this material to the right government officials for consideration.

His response was something that I will never forget. He thanked me for the great effort I had put into the proposals but then looked directly at me and told me, sheepishly, that no one in the Pakistani government is interested in change. They are all happy with the status quo, and if anyone presented ideas for change they will immediately feel threatened. It was therefore best if I kept my ideas to myself.

So it cannot come as a surprise that someone as competent and experienced as Sarwar did not find much enthusiasm for his ideas to build a better Pakistan. Here was a man who was not only a successful self-made businessman, but was also the UK’s first Muslim Member of Parliament. Having served diligently in the cut and thrust of brutal Westminster politics for over a decade, he surrendered his UK passport in the hope of giving something back to his country of birth. But he would have found both his competence and his zeal for reform a political liability. His record of achievement would have marked him as a competitive threat to the lazy established political elite. There is no room in Pakistani politics for someone who would rock the boat, and unsettle convenient policy gridlocks.

And this is why his resignation is also truly depressing. If someone of Sarwar’s calibre, experience and determination did not see any hope in trying to better his country from the lofty offices of the governor of Punjab and felt it was best to serve Pakistan as a private citizen, what message does that send about the current state of democracy?

Sadly, everyone expects politicians to indulge in some corruption and skim some cream of the top – such is the state and confidence of the second oldest profession in Pakistan. But if only that were the only problem. The problem with the current administration goes beyond mere corruption. It also adds gross incompetence at every level. Take the most recent occurrence of blackouts and fuel shortages in a country that is full of resources as an example. Such a failure to maintain basic infrastructure even in favourable conditions is telling. As is the fact that no one is likely to be held responsible for what was an easily avoidable catastrophe.

In the end, this was Sarwar’s problem. He possessed the career ending qualities of competence and honesty, and there is no place in the current Pakistan political environment for people like that. Everyone would have wished Sarwar better success, but even saints see no point in preaching at the gates of hell.


Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (twitter.com/AzeemIbrahim)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    We Pakistanis can only wait for a messiah, who is not to come.

  • Yousuf

    “They are all happy with the status quo, and if anyone presented ideas for change they will immediately feel threatened. It was therefore best if I kept my ideas to myself.”

    I heard the same line from a friend who visited a Wapda head office with a brilliant idea which was very very cheap and would have stopped over billing.The response from the government officer was “its a brilliant idea but would be bad for Wapda so please do not ever come to our office again”Recommend

  • Taj

    Why should they ..? White
    man gone long ago but left his philosophy to his cronies “divide and rule “ . For masses no real
    education , no real health care , no law and order ..nothing at all but still
    through manipulations masses are happy with the situation . This system will
    never change from top it has to be changed from bottom through evolution or revolution

  • Bansar

    Every expatriate Pakistani thinks about returning to Pakistan. At some point in their lives they come here and have a look around to see if they can make a go of it. But almost all realize that this place is hopeless and go back. You would have to be really naive to conclude otherwise.

    From what I’ve read in the media Sarwar was an ambitious person and he was promised big things. When it didn’t materialize he bailed. He should have known better than to believe Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Rameez Zafar

    Every Machine has its own mechanics. You cant operate an electrical system by applying the theories of geology.

    Similarly every society has its own dynamics. If you don’t know the right way to enforce your ideas then please don’t go around complaining.

    Same was the case with Mr. Governor. You cant convert Lahore into Manchester in a couple of years using the same tacts you used in UK Politics. It takes time and diligence to end status quo.

    Moreover he kept whining around on TV Shows. That wasnt the right way to show his concerns. He should have done his homework before taking the charge instead of complaining in his last speech that his office was devoid of any authority.

    This poor soul should return to UK and should spend the rest of his life playing with his grand kids. He can do no good in Paki PoliticsRecommend

  • Maggi

    Any sane person who wants to bring betterment to Pakistan would not accept position of Governor at the first place. President and Governors are not more than rubber stamps in the current political system. Secondly, all should understand that foreign policy is strictly in the hands of army and anyone crossing the line would be fired immediately and Just for Info Gen Raheel Shareef is our current foreign minister.Recommend

  • Mohammad

    Gen Raheel Sharif is in fact our Actual and all in power Prime Minister, while, he has also kept the foreign ministry with himself… As all generals in Pakistan always do…Recommend

  • Mohammad

    Please note that the post of a Governor is a
    ceremonial post which is created due to some protocol requirements and a
    Governor represents the federation in the province. Whereas, Mr. Sarwar was
    trying to put himself in the shoes of a Chief Minister of the province. This is the actual issue of Pakistan that every one wants to be a lone “Massehia” and a superman and no one is interested in performing his/her duties as per law and constitution. If Mr. Sarwar was interested in becoming Quaid Azam the 2nd, then he shouldn’t have accepted the post of a governor at the first place.Recommend