Sardar Usman Buzdar is probably the biggest political mystery in recent years. When he was suddenly plucked out of obscurity and catapulted to the powerful position of Punjab Chief Minister, the move was met with astonishment and bewilderedness. Many wondered whether Prime Minister Imran Khan had made a blunder in anointing a political novice as the head of the province that determines the fortunes of political parties in the country. Buzdar was immediately written off by his critics and detractors — and political pundits have especially relished in giving cut off dates of his tenure in office. If one were to believe such predictions, CM Buzdar would have disappeared into the backwaters of South Punjab long ago.

But Usman Buzdar continues to survive the constant barrage of media onslaught and political attacks. His constant ability to come out unscathed after every new round of political crisis continues to confound and amaze. What is even more surprising is that CM Buzdar has managed to override some objections raised by some quarters in the powerful Establishment also. His unassuming personality and tentative appearance in social settings further compounds the mystery. Despite being in the limelight, Usman Buzdar has resisted the temptations of appearing smug or pompous. During press conferences, he continues to wear a shy smile and in interactions with the Prime Minister at 7-Club Road, he sits with hands folded and a downcast eye. Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to believe in his choice.

The unflinching belief was evident a few days ago when CM Buzdar met with PM Khan at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. Hours later it was announced that Azam Sulaiman Khan was removed from the post of Chief Secretary Punjab. The unceremonious exit of Azam Sulaiman Khan took some people by surprise. After all, he had been posted as the all-powerful Chief Secretary just a few months ago and had been given a freehand. Three Chief Secretaries had been removed before him in what seems like a bizarre game of musical chairs. But Azam Sulaiman Khan was thought to have the backing of the powers-that-be. PM Khan had also shown immense confidence in his administrative skills.

After a constant stream of political criticism of mismanagement and dysfunction in Punjab, a powerful chief secretary and inspector general police duo were put in place. The move was thought to be a workable solution to bring Punjab back on track. It was considered a snub to CM Buzdar also. The Chief Secretary made a point to show that he will not tolerate any political interference and would work independently. And, for a while, Buzdar took the backseat. Political sources said earlier this year that the CM was “playing a waiting game and letting things pile on to the chief secretary” as discontent and unease grew within the local political class. The strategy worked. CM Buzdar survived yet again and a once-powerful bureaucrat was made to eat humble pie in an exit from the province.

Aides and political sources say that CM Buzdar is the quintessential politician from South Punjab: all sweet talk and submissive demeanour but a shrewd and clever political operator from within. They point to the group of 20 Punjab lawmakers who suddenly popped earlier in January and demanded funds and public projects in their constituencies. Insiders say that the lawmakers’ group was actually a Trojan horse of CM Buzdar.

CM Buzdar has also used his former association with the PML-Q to his full advantage. He continues to play a bridge between the PTI and PML-Q. The ability to lend a soft ear to PML-Q while managing the internal grumblings of PTI has added to his longevity in office.

It could well be that CM Buzdar has been just plain lucky. His aides, however, insist that luck never has a long run in politics, especially in a province like Punjab where vested interest groups are far too many and far too powerful. Some have speculated for long that more than luck it is the spiritual patronage that has protected CM Buzdar from the rough and tumble of power politics.

The recent COVID-19 crisis has seen CM Buzdar come out of his shell. He has been active and at the forefront of media. The visibility and a growing sense of ease have surprised even those critics who were earlier writing long columns about how he was the single biggest mistake of PM Imran Khan. Buzdar has emerged as a political survivor with the proverbial nine lives.

Some people remain unconvinced and say that the forensic audit report of the sugar and wheat shortage crisis can really dent the future of the Punjab Chief Minister. Jahangir Tareen, the once-powerful backroom political player who is now writhing on the political sidelines and a focus of the ongoing investigations, has already pointed figures at Buzdar, alleging that the CM is responsible for allowing the subsidy. It won’t be long before the forensic report will be made public. Would Buzdar survive yet again?