The rumbling in Punjab is probably going to be controlled, but it does represent an escalation in a province that only came under the PTI’s sway in the last election, and where it formed the government only with the support of the PML (Q), which had seven seats. There were also 28 independents, who saw the light after the election, and joined the PTI.

The PTI has managed to win majorities in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in both elections, the second overwhelming, so it did not need anyone to help it form the government. True, it initially took the Qaumi Watan Party into its coalition, but expelled it over allegations of corruption against its ministers. The Jamaat Islami remained a coalition partner right to the end, and its four MPAs are supporting the Buzdar government now.

It therefore seems to have been a bigger issue that the Punjab Mines and Minerals Minister Hafiz Ammar Yasir resigned. He was the only PML(Q) member of the Buzdar Cabinet. It is not that the PML(Q) has otherwise gone unrewarded: it has got the Speakership in the person of Ch Pervaiz Elahi. However, among others, it has also got Raja Basharat and Aleem Khan among those who went from the PML(Q) to the PTI, with Raja Basharat holding the Law portfolio as a member of Ch Pervaiz Elahi’s Cabinet.

Aleem Khan has been designated senior minister, a position in the Punjab held only by the late Makhdum Altaf Ahmad and when he died of a sudden heart attack, Mushtaq Awan. Though the senior minister was leader of the PPP parliamentary party, Manzoor Wattoo was Chief Minister, and did not abate one jot or tittle of the prerogatives of the office. The senior minister was designated because it was the larger partner in the coalition with the PML(J). Does Usman Buzdar head a coalition Cabinet with Aleem Khan distinguished because he heads its largest component? Actually, that might well be the situation, because Aleem Khan has been in the PTI longer than Buzdar, he having joined it in 2012, while Buzdar only entered as a member of the Janoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz when it merged with the PTI just before last year’s election. Before that, he had been in the PML(N) and the PML(Q). He was in the PML(Q) when his father was an MPA in the 2003-8 Assembly, when Ch Pervaiz Elahi was CM.

Has Ch Pervaiz accepted the generational change? The fact that he is in the House, and has not allowed a son to contest in 2018, indicates otherwise. At the least, he wishes to retain his present office. Instead of the PTI, he would need PML(N) support for this. The PTI has a thin majority, and if the PML(Q) went over with only half the independents, the PML(N) could not only form the government, but dictate who occupies the Speakership. Ch Pervaiz was particularly harsh on the Treasury, giving the opposition as much leeway as possible. PTI ministers will not get as free a hand, and his refusal to allow the Housing Minister to get the Law Minister to open a debate in his place was indicative. Speakers have been expected to make sure that ministers, who are after all party colleagues, are looked after, if not necessarily have their interpretations of the rules followed. As it so happens, the Speaker is only a party colleague of one minister. The last time the Speaker came from another party than the CM, was when Hanif Ramay of the PPP was Speaker during the 1993-6 Assembly, when the PML(J) held the Chief Ministership in the shape of Manzoor Wattoo and Arif Nakai. Their Cabinets had large numbers of PPP members. In fact, that might be a model the PTI might like for Ch Pervaiz, for Ramay was also a former Punjab CM, and that was his last political office. He was 63 when elected Speaker, 75 when he died. Ch Pervaiz is 73. That makes him about as old as Usman Buzdar’s father, Fateh Muhammad, who did a masters in 1964, even though the son is no spring chicken at about 50.

The resignation of the only PML(Q) minister in the Buzdar Cabinet, Hafiz Ammar, was handed in by him not to the Chief Minister he served, or the Governor who would approve the resignation, but to the President of his party, Ch Shujaat Hussain, thus raising the resignation from the personal to the partisan. True, as the representative of a party, his resignation was to go to the party chief, but it should be remembered that once anyone joins a coalition Cabinet, they are as bound by the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility as members of a one-party Cabinet. There is a dichotomy, as the name of the minister is not put forward by the CM, but given to him by the party chief. The CM may discuss that name with the party chief, especially if he thinks him unsuitable. Often, the coalescing party might ask for particular portfolios, but in this case, Mines and Minerals, it is difficult to see the PML(Q)’s interest.

The portfolio is a minor one. At the same time, like most minor portfolios, it can be made lucrative. The department is responsible for giving out leases for state land for mining, and thus for recommending renewal or otherwise of leases that might run out. It is a department at the edge of the very battlefield of corruption, and there it represents a fault line between the PTI and the PML(Q). The PTI is a sworn enemy of corruption, but while the PML(Q) may be against it on paper, its leading figures, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, were an integral part of the Nawaz Sharif system against which the PTI rails so much. Party chief Ch Shujaat was a fixture as Interior Minister in the two Nawaz Cabinets before the Musharraf martial law. Ch Pervaiz was a longtime Local Government Minister, and was made Speaker in 1997 when he was not made CM. They then left the PML(N) to form the PML(Q), along with other PML(N) people and PPP deserters, when the Musharraf martial law held elections. The PML(Q)’s heyday came after that, and with it became the ruling party in the centre and all provinces, under Ch Pervaiz in Punjab. Ch Shujaat got to be PM in the interval between the resignation of Zafrullah Jamali as PM and Shaukat Aziz finding a seat in the House.

This shows up a pattern: comfort with military regimes. That goes back a generation, to the founding father of the dynasty, Ch Zahoor Elahi, Ch Shujaat’s father, and Ch Pervaiz’s uncle and father-in-law. The acme of his cooperation goes back to the time he served as Secretary General of the Convention Muslim League, of which the President was Ayub Khan. Imran Khan would be disproportionately worried, because the favour of the military is something he would have preferred to monopolise.

Ch Pervaiz’s distancing himself cannot be blamed on the failure of the Buzdar government not to legislate against corruption. As mentioned, the PML(Q) is not as virulently against corruption. However, if the PTI central government faces a veto because of the lack of a Senate majority, it faces no such problem in three provinces. It should not be forgotten that the PTI is very much a player in the system, and wishes to bring tabdeeli by using it. To bring about change should require legislation, and law and order being a provincial subject, surely some legislation could be done by provincial assemblies. The failure to introduce any would worry hard-core supporters who might trust Imran, but are not sure about Buzdar, or especially Ch Pervaiz.

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

The resignation of the only PML(Q) minister in the Buzdar Cabinet, Hafiz Ammar, was handed in by him not to the Chief Minister he served, or the Governor who would approve the resignation, but to the President of his party, Ch Shujaat Hussain.