The resignation of Governor Punjab Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar on Jan 29 has raised several questions regarding his future political role in the country.
In the press conference where he announced his decision to resign as the governor of Punjab, Sarwar made it quite clear that he was not enjoying the best of relationship with Sharif brothers who, as a reward of Sarwar’s ‘services’ during their exile days in London, appointed him as the governor in 2013.
“It has been my training to call a spade a spade. Even as a British MP, I criticised my party on various occasions, but I regret to say that land mafia in Punjab are stronger than the governor,” remarked Chaudhry Sarwar in a news conference held at the Governor’s House in Lahore, which was nothing less than a charge sheet against the PML-N government.
Nevertheless, the debate is still on in media as well as political circles what really offended Sharifs and what finally led to Sarwar’s resignation.
Soon after quitting the office of Governor Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar has started receiving calls from different politicians, hailing from different political parties, in his new office set up at Shami Road in Lahore Cantonment.
Sarwar held the office of Governor Punjab for 17 months and during this period different issues were attributed to his differences with the PML-N high command – including his criticism over issues of governance in Punjab, his stance on local government polls, his weak role as governor and his alleged part in the London Plan against the Nawaz regime.
According to sources, what led to ultimate severing of his ties with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was his recent statement on the “diplomatic failure” of Islamabad in the wake of US President Obama’s visit to India.
Sarwar, who played a key role in winning the GSP-Plus status for Pakistan in Europe through effective lobbying, wanted the government to plead its case strongly before the US, keeping in view the contributions, sacrifices and role of Pakistan as a frontline ally. He also wanted effective lobbying by the Sharif government to convince the US to treat Pakistan and India on the principle of equality.
His remark on the “diplomatic failure” was direct criticism on the foreign ministry that is headed by none other than Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sarwar’s appointment by Nawaz Sharif in 2013 as Governor Punjab was contested from within the PML-N quarters. The major resentment against Sarwar came to surface from none other than his own home city, Toba Tek Singh. Chaudhry Asad-ur-Rehman, PML-N MNA from Toba Tek Singh and brother of former Chief Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday emerged as his chief opponent.
According to sources, Rehman had alleged that due to Sarwar’s connection with a senior police officer, FIR of an incident of attack on his political rival’s dera was registered against him in the PPP era. (Asad-ur-Rehman has won elections on the IJI as well as the PML-N ticket in 1988, 1990, 1997, and 2013 polls. He lost in 1993, 2002 and 2008)
In his hometown, Sarwar received vehement criticism from PML-N office bearers for his open support to the PPP candidates including Khalid Ahmed Khan Kharal and later Riaz Fatiana who had contested against the Nawaz League.
The PML-N members in the area of Toba Tek Singh believe that Chaudhry Sarwar had been active against the PML-N in different elections and his brother Chaudhry Ramazan has connections with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. One of his relatives, according to PML-N members is also a ticket holder of the PTI on a provincial seat and contested against PML-N.
Due to such stiff opposition, Sarwar, despite surrendering his UK nationality, had to wait for two weeks to take oath as the governor.
Soon after assuming office, Sarwar complained to the party high command about lack of cooperation from officials, particularly those from his hometown, because of which he was unable to address the complaints of his supporters.
Opposition to Sarwar within PML-N cadres was also evident in his land dispute with a PML-N MNA Junaid Anwar, who also hails from Toba Tek Singh. The matter is sub judice.
Asad ur Rehman, the PML-N MNA from Toba Tek Singh says that the Governor’s role is to act according to the constitution rather than criticise his own government. Regarding reports pertaining to Chaudhry Sarwar’s interference in the political affairs of Toba Tek Singh, he says that there were many issues but he always discussed them at the party forum and never issued statement against anyone.
In 2014, eyebrows were raised in the PML-N over Governor Punjab’s soft tone towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Dr Tahir ul Qadri and other rivals of the ruling party’s call for sit-ins. Suspicions increased after the reports of the London Plan started surfacing. His critics allege Sarwar was part of the conspiracy being hatched against the Nawaz government in London before the long marches of the PTI and PAT in August. Sarwar, however, denied this.
The stance of former Governor Punjab Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar regarding the local government elections also received flak from the party office bearers who took it as a direct criticism on the party policies. Even the second or third tier members of the PML-N, in different TV talk shows, described his remarks in support of the local government elections as Sarwar “breaching his constitutional limits”.
While talking to The News, Sarwar stated that neither he ever thought of breaching his authority nor used his influence to favour any outlaws.
“I served the office whole-heartedly and without any bias towards anyone. The allegations leveled by anyone of casting my influence to damage him politically is out of question,” said Sarwar.
Sarwar hails from Kamalia, Toba Tek Singh. He went to the UK and settled there in the 1970s. He remained an active member of the British Parliament and actively participated in different fundraising campaigns after Pakistan was hit by earthquake in 2005 and floods in 2010 and 2011. He also enjoyed cordial relationships with PPP’s slain chairperson Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and other politicians from Pakistan.
By 2005, while Sharif brothers were living in exile in Jeddah and wanted to reach Britain amid opposition from the then President Pervez Musharraf, it is stated that Sarwar, as a British MP, successfully lobbied for them — and finally they were issued visas. He was also a staunch advocate for Sharifs’ right to return to Pakistan.
In the 2013 elections, when the PML-N government came to power, Sharifs, as a reward of his past services, appointed him as the governor of Punjab. Sarwar surrendered his British nationality after receiving a go-ahead from Sharifs.