Who call the shots in Sahiwal division (Neeli Bar)?

 Bureaucratic reshuffle has become a new normal in three districts of Sahiwal division during the tenure of PTI government

Prime Minister Imran Khan often lecture us about the importance of merit, rule of law and independent working of government officials. PM Imran Khan also praise the performance of CM Punjab Usman Buzdar.

The spokesman of Punjab government also told us on daily basis that the transfers and postings of bureaucracy are carried out on merit and on the basis of performance. Punjab government transfers the officials of the district administration when they failed to serve the people and satisfy the CM Punjab.

The Punjab government claims that District police Officers (DPOs) and Deputy Commissioners (DCs) posted on merit without any political or other external influence and involvement.  

But the the senior journalist and analyst of Jang Group Tariq Butt has exposed these claims. He wrote an insightful story in The News international about the influential father and son who are calling shots in Sahiwal division also called Neeli Bar. 

Neeli Bar is a geographical region in Punjab province of Pakistan which is administratively  known as Sahiwal division. This region consists of the districts Sahiwal, Okara and Pakpattan. This area is situated between the rivers Ravi and Sutlej.

“Bar” is the name given to areas in Punjab situated between two rivers.  These areas were used to cover with thick forests. The thick forests disappeared after the establishment of the modern canal irrigation system.

Neeli Bar is known for its fertile soil, warriors and buffalo breed known as milk machines. But here we will not discuss fertile land, warriors and buffalos, instead we will discuss here about the famous father and son belonging to local influential Maneka family.    

But when one talks to the officials familiar with the developments in Neeli Bar region has lot to talk. They will reveal that how the father and son use their influence on the chief minister office and his office make all postings, transfers and key appointments in the Sahiwal division on the desire and wishes of the influential duo.

Tariq Butt pointed out that “in the last three years since August 2018, seven district police officers (DPOs) have been transferred from Pakpattan. Their average tenure comes to five months as opposed to the requirement of law that is three years.

 Over the past three years, six commissioners of Sahiwal have been transferred, making the average tenure of the senior most state official at the divisional level administration six months.

 The last commissioner was sent packing a couple of months ago because he could not respond to the phone call of the younger member of the duo. The chief minister’s office forced the commissioner to visit the famous farmhouse and seek forgiveness from the elder member. He complied with the advice, but to no avail, and was transferred.”

Tariq Butt went further and revealed  that the XENs of Irrigation, Multan Electric Supply Company (MEPCO), highways and public health, Revenue officials, deputy superintendents of police (DSPs), station house officers (SHOs) and revenue officials, and officers of the federal departments like Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL), National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) are advised by their superiors to show deference to the influential pair or else they would not be able to continue in the Neeli Bar.

The father and son draw their illegal power authority from their links and close relationship with Prime Minister House. They have been protected at the highest levels of political authority.   

One event after the other proved that this pair considers itself above the law. Both father and son without having any official position hold power than the top officials and local politicians belonging to the ruling party. They have repeatedly displayed this power in last 40 months and proved too strong and powerful for Deputy Commissioners, District Police Officers and Commissioners.

The Neeli Bar area like the central Punjab is the heartland of the political support base of the PMLN since 2013. PML-N won all the national assembly seats in 2013 general elections.  In 2018 general elections, out of nine members of the National Assembly from the region, eight belong to the PMLN. Similarly, out of 20 members of the Punjab Assembly, fifteen were elected on the PMLN tickets.

It was used to be the stronghold of PPP till 2008. PPP was used to won most of the seats from Sahiwal Division. In 1988 and 1993 general elections, PPP won all the seats from Okara district and majority of seats from Sahiwal and Pakpattan districts.

PML-N increased its influence since 1997. Now PML-N is the dominating force of the Neeli Bar area. PTI failed to make big inroads in these three districts and overtake PML-N as the first political choice.  

The PML-N is sitting on the opposition benches so parliamentarians belonging to it from Neeli Bar have no say in the administrative and policy decisions. PTI has very little representation. In this case, the vacuum created is being filled by bureaucracy.

 The influential father and son have taken advantage of the situation and started to call shots. They face no real resistance and opposition from local PTI leaders because party is weak at local level in all three districts of Sahiwal division. They have emerged as the kingmakers in Sahiwal Division. 

The interesting fact is that both father and son hold no public or official position in any capacity but no district level bureaucrat can survive in the region without their blessing. Millions of people living in the three districts of Sahiwal Division are left on the mercy of male members of an influential family living in Pakpattan district.    

                                                                     Khalid Bhatti 

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