Currently there is an ongoing search for the capital city of the new province of Southern Punjab. Multan seems to be the winner. After the infamous 18th Amendment while Islamabad has been cut to size, the position of the Chief Minister (CM) has become very important. While I fully support devolution of power if it is all the way down to the district, town and union council, it has stopped at the provincial level in this case. The race for the coveted position of CM has started amongst the political heavyweights of the area. Eyes are focused on the new capital.

As a country, we have suffered in this search for a capital as most aspirants have vested interests to impose personal rule. Ayub Khan was always uncomfortable with Karachi so he decided to move the seat of power near the GHQ and his own village on the other side of Margalla Mountains. He thought that his empire would rule the country from their home ground, but his heir apparent Captain (R) Gohar Ayub Khan could not ascend the throne. Quaid, on his first visit to East Pakistan, could sense the ambition of the General to build his own capital so he personally superseded him.

Ambition for personal glory has to be contained before it gets out of hand. I am sure there must have been debate within the All India Muslim League on the selection of the new capital. Perhaps it was a close race between Lahore, Dhaka and Karachi. My folks who migrated from Ludhiana, East Punjab thought the city was too close to the border so they settled in Rawalpindi from where they had planned to return to their roots in Baramulla, Kashmir. Also, Lahore had too many imperial and colonial roots. Dhaka too had imperial roots and was densely populated though the Muslim League was born here in 1906. Karachi, being a seaport and a cosmopolitan city, was a good compromise. Though the father of the nation was born here, he settled in Bombay where he practised law. The Jinnah House is now being contested for ownership, being the most expensive property in the city. The Bengali leadership also accepted the new capital as they were connected through water. Till today there is a huge Bengali population in Karachi. The shifting of the first capital started the process of the break-up of Quaid’s Pakistan.

Ayub Khan’s ambition and search for a capital for personal glory destroyed the country. The same process should not be repeated again. Politics of the federation and the provinces should be handled separately to reach an amicable outcome without pressure or leverage. New provinces are certainly needed for good governance. Punjab is too big a province to be managed from Lahore. India has been very successful at creating new provinces while we have been going back and forth. The debate should start in the Punjab Assembly to come up with the best way forward, the federation should not jump in at the initial stages. Federal players should focus on national issues and effectively run their ministries instead of building their own personal empires and capitals. The former state of Bahawalpur desires to be on its own instead of coming under the rule of Multan. There should be no arm-twisting or influence-peddling for personal advantage by using the state apparatus.

After the 1970 elections and break-up of Pakistan, the first CM of Punjab was Malik Meraj Khalid who was an MNA of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Malik Sahib was a seasoned politician who ran the province well. Bhutto then separated the provincial and federal players. While Punjab was left with Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Hanif Ramay, Malik Sahib went to the centre. Today the country faces serious internal governance and external challenges. Kashmir and surrounding areas are bracing for a major conflict. While the Prime Minister has focus and is doing his best, the cabinet leaves a lot to be desired. In politics, there are always difficult choices. While Abraham Lincoln the great US President lost the election for the senate, he was elected President as his appeal and message was widespread and well understood. There is a famous English proverb, ‘ Running with the hare and hunting with the hound ‘ which applies here. Those who seek power by changing loyalties and parties and follow personal agendas have to be exposed for rational politics to return as it was in the decades of fifties and seventies. Political bounty hunters are no longer needed in the land of the pure.

The PM is closely monitoring the performance of his cabinet which is a good sign. A team can be effective if it has a cohesive approach called teamwork. As a successful cricket captain, Imran Khan always worked for the team, not individual goals. Javed Miandad often complained of aggressive declarations by the captain to win the match instead of letting him score centuries. He is now leading a more complex team with diverse players having hidden agendas, it is taking more time to reach logical conclusions but I am sure he will get there sooner or later. As the leader, he has to set the agenda of every player. Job descriptions have to be clearly defined for each role. There should be neither duplicity nor overlaps. The team working on creating new provinces should have a clear mandate to draw the lines and suggest new provincial capitals best suited to govern, not to establish fiefdoms and dynasties.

In practical life, it is widely believed that there is no substitute to experience, similarly in politics there is no shortcut to struggle and service to the people. Back door entrants have dominated the political arena in the last about forty years thereby reducing the parliament into a debating club like the free speech corner in Hyde Park in London. Pakistan is not a park, it is a country of over 220 million real people who have needs that are not being met due to political jugglers who manage to cling on to power in every government despite a poor record of serving the people or effectively leading their ministries while in the federal government. The people of Southern Punjab should decide on the division of their area including the selection of capital/capitals by following the due constitutional process without the manipulation of the political sharks.