Though the transferring out of the District Police Officer Pakpattan, Rizwan Gondal, threw a lurid light on Prime Minister Imran Khan, and thus on the government his party had formed, his own helicopter ride, and the plane ride with family by Usman Buzdar, the man he had selected from the backbenches of the Punjab Assembly to be its Chief Minister, made many wonder indeed whether the slogans of tabdeeli were meant for anything more than taking power.

Everyone seems to be treading carefully around the incident in Pakpattan, perhaps because one of the prominent figures in it is the first husband of the present First Lady. The reason the honorary title of First Lady is used by the PM’s wife rather than the President’s, is because a President became a PM, and all the paraphernalia that went with the Presidency went to the PM when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stepped down after the implementation of the 1973 Constitution. Begum Nusrat Bhutto had become First Lady in 1972, and remained so when her husband became PM. However, the books of protocol, the rules of business and security are silent as to the treatment of the Prime Minister’s wife’s first husband.

Actually, there should be some provision in a Muslim state, but since this Muslim state is in the Subcontinent, the assumption is that the President, Prime Minister, or other official, will have only one wife, the one he married years ago. Incidentally, the first holder of the office, Bhutto, was polygamous, and it was his second wife who was the First Lady. The assumption in the Subcontinent is that the First Lady, no matter which of the PM’s wives she is, will not have a previous marriage in the background. Again, in a Muslim country, this is unwarranted.

Of course. Khawar Maneka’s being the ex-husband of Mrs Khan is not his only claim to fame. He himself is a Grade-21 Customs official. He is also the son of Mian Ghulam Muhammad Ahmad Maneka, the Pakpattan politician who served as a member of Benazir Bhutto’s first Cabinet. Thus, he would be quite a prominent person in his native Pakpattan, belonging to a locally prominent family.

It is said that he abused the policemen who made him stop at a police picket. The DPO says he was told by the Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, to go to Mr Maneka at his dera and apologise. He refused, and was transferred the same day. Now that is a very typical, very rural thing to do: force someone to go to a zamindar’s dera and apologise. That is where the confrontation, between two civil officers, one from the Customs Group, the other from the Police Service of Pakistan, became one between a Maneka and a Gondal.

Manekas are actually a clan of Wattoos. Wattoos are generally jaangli, with lands along the banks of the rivers of the Punjab. They speak a dialect of Punjabi akin to Seraiki and are great cattle breeders. The true jaangli has an attitude to livestock shocking to more settled farmers. The Manekas are a cut above the average Wattoo, having more lands, and a leading position since British times. They have taken to education a little earlier, though Gondal is evidence that other jaanglis have also availed the opportunities that have come their way. Gondals are another jaangli caste, but there is no Gondal-Wattoo rivalry. Indeed, they belong to different areas. The Gondals belong to the Gondal Bar, between the Chenab and Jhelum rivers, while the Wattoos belong to the areas along the Sutlej.

While both Maneka and Gondal seem modernised and educated, their use of the names indicates that both accept their heritage even as they probably refuse to be controlled by it. However, while it would be natural for a Maneka landowner to expect the kotwal, or whatever the local head of police might like to call himself, to come to his dera to apologise, a Gondal would refuse even if a DPO might go.

The Maneka would want an apology, not so much for his experience at the checkpoint, as for the stopping of his son and daughter when they went to visit the shrine of Baba Farid Shakarganj on the night of August 5, no less than 18 days before the checkpoint incident. The DPO might feel aggrieved, because the extra security had been put on precisely because it was rumoured that Imran’s wife would be arriving. She was not yet the First Lady, but the election results were in, and had made it pretty clear she would be. The security detail did not know, it seems, what to do about the incoming PM’s stepchildren.

The police report, which was presented to the Supreme Court, seems primarily an exercise in deflecting responsibility from the IGP (and incidentally the CM). The report does not go as far as to say that neither incident happened at all, but it seems that is what it would do if it could. There are two aspects that deserve attention. First is that the tabdeeli rhetoric does not seem to have reached the police (or presumably other civil servants). The reflex action seems to be according the protocol of the past to office-bearers’ families. Second is that outgoing governments perhaps did not subjugate the civil services so much as civil servants show past politicians the path to protocol, and once one official gives it, anyone who doesn’t would be seen as stiff-necked. The military’s frequent takeovers have been no help, with high-minded obedience to the rules seen as military-backed insolence.

The temptations the police proffer would be seen in the protocol given to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on his visit to Pakpattan. He was there to pay his respects at the shrine of Baba Farid Shakarganj, but the protocol and the attendant motorcade ensured that the whole town would know that a CM had come visiting. It is worth noting that Buzdar came at all, for he hails from Taunsa Sharif, which is home to several Sufi shrines, most notably that of Pir Muhammad Suleman Taunsvi. However, Baba Farid is a bigger saint, and has a greater following.

The controversy over Buzdar and his family using a private plane, or of Imran’s using a helicopter to go from PM Secretariat to his Bani Gala residence, was created only because the PTI had turned it into an issue. The Federal Cabinet’s restrictions on air travel for ministers and civil servants had created great soundbites, but had also made it more or less impossible for any air travel, no matter how justified, by elected officials, to escape comment. Once one accepts the security argument, then all sorts of extravagance is justified. The PTI voter does not accept that argument, or that particular persons deserve special treatment, but now PTI leaders are going against that when the weight of office has come on them. An additional complication has been created by Imran’s having broken the mould by marrying someone with an ex-husband and children from a previous marriage.

Below this is the power struggle going on between the bureaucracy/establishment which would like to preserve the status quo of exercising power for its own benefit while elected officials take the blame, and the PTI, which has been newly admitted to power. The PML(N) and the PPP have been there, done that. Both were duly tamed, and grew to love their chains. Will the PTI?


n          The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

The police report, which was presented to the Supreme Court, seems primarily an exercise in deflecting responsibility from the IGP (and incidentally the CM).