October Issue 2016

By | Newsbeat National | Cover Story | Published 10 months ago

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More than three years down the road and with less than two years remaining, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is under growing pressure to deliver on its election campaign promises and show visible results if it wants to convince voters to bring it back to power in the 2018 general elections in the country.

On the basis of its performance to date, the Imran Khan-headed PTI would have to struggle to retain power in KP. It would have to do much better to be able to obtain the same number of votes that it won in the 2013 general elections. And convincing voters in the other three provinces to vote the PTI into power would largely depend on the performance of its government in KP.

One advantage for the PTI is the inability of the major opposition parties to win back the trust of the electorate. The voters were disappointed and even angry with the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the senior and junior coalition partners in the provincial government from 2008-2013, for their generally poor performance and more so due to the widely held belief that record corruption took place during the ANP-PPP rule. By default, this would help the PTI to continue attracting votes for want of a better alternative.

That the PTI vote bank is, by and large, intact is borne out by the outcome of the by-elections in the last three years. In the by-elections for the National Assembly in KP since the May 2013 polls, the PTI retained its position as the top vote-getting party by winning four out of the six seats in different parts of the province. Its total tally of votes in the by-elections was 348,000 votes, followed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F that obtained 155,000 votes but failed to win any National Assembly seat. In fact, the PTI snatched two JUI-F seats that the latter had won in May 2013. The ANP made a slight comeback in the by-elections by winning one National Assembly seat – NA-1 Peshawar – that the PTI had won in 2013 with Imran Khan as its candidate. ANP’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour had lost to Imran Khan by a wide margin, but in the by-election necessitated by the PTI chairman’s decision to give up the Peshawar seat he defeated PTI’s weak candidate Gul Badshah by about 6,000 votes to regain his traditional constituency. The sixth by-election for the National Assembly was won by the PML-N in its stronghold of Hazara when it snatched the PTI seat in Haripur.

As coalition governments are inherently weak and have difficulty in remaining focused on implementing the manifesto of different political parties in power, the PTI-led government in KP too has been finding it difficult to meet the demands of the various groups in the PTI as well as its two coalition partners – the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) of Aftab Sherpao and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) headed by Sirajul Haq, who belongs to Lower Dir district in KP. Both the PTI and the QWP leaders had to eat their words and enter into a coalition again after having parted company earlier in late 2013 and accused each other of being unprincipled and corrupt. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak persuaded Imran Khan that it was prudent to bring back the QWP into the coalition government to keep a check on the JI, the third partner in the alliance that is hard to please, and also the dissident PTI lawmakers. It must have been painful for Imran Khan to let the QWP back into the coalition government after having publicly accused two QWP ministers of involvement in corruption and ordered the chief minister to sack them. However, he had to do this due to the demands of realpolitik.

One recurring issue for the PTI is the indiscipline in its ranks. Four PTI MNAs from KP revolted against Imran Khan’s decision to stage protest dharnas in August 2014 in Islamabad to pressure the PML-N government and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign on the basis of its allegation that the 2013 polls were rigged. Later in 2016, five more PTI MNAs and six MPAs formed a pressure group and asked Imran Khan to remove Chief Minister Pervez Khattak for failing to implement the party manifesto in the province and treat the PTI lawmakers fairly. Khattak was accused of spending most of the development funds in his native in Swabi, Nowshera to which Speaker Asad Qaiser belongs, in Mardan, from where the influential education minister Mohammad Atif Khan was elected, and in the Lower Dir district of the JI chief Sirajul Haq and his party colleagues, including finance minister Muzaffar Sayed. The PTI dissidents are also unhappy that opposition lawmakers are getting extra development funds due to the chief minister’s policy of appeasement to pre-empt threats to his government.

Despite all these problems, the PTI-led government has undertaken some noteworthy reforms and is gearing to do more on this front. According to the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), in its latest survey of all four provinces, KP led in terms of its improved governance. There has been no major scandal against the ruling elite, even though a sitting PTI minister, Ziaullah Afridi, was arrested on corruption charges by the same Ehtesab Commission established by the provincial government. However, he hasn’t been convicted yet and his tirade against the chief minister has damaged the PTI’s reputation. The KP Police also had a good image, but it improved further due to the inspiring leadership provided by Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nasir Khan Durrani, who doesn’t tolerate any political interference in police affairs. Imran Khan and Pervez Khattak too deserve credit for giving the IGP a free hand and refraining from interfering in his work. The KP Police also earned both applause and sympathy due to the record sacrifices offered by its martyred and wounded cops in the war against terrorism. The education and healthcare system have also seen some reforms and attendance of teachers and doctors has improved due to strict oversight.

The government is also claiming to have set up a record of legislation made through the provincial assembly. Ministers frequently point out that more than 100 new laws have been passed by the assembly including the most recent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Whistleblower Protection and Vigilance Commission Bill 2016 and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Interest on Private Loans Bill 2016 to tackle corruption in government departments and eliminate interest on private loans. The setting up of the Ehtesab Commission, the Right to Information Commission and the Right to Services Commission are often highlighted as unique in the context of Pakistan to promote accountability and empower the people.

However, the opposition parties and critics contend that there has been no visible ‘change’ promised by Imran Khan in the province. In fact, Imran Khan’s slogan of building a ‘new Pakistan’ and pioneering ‘change’ through corruption-free governance and an empowered local government system serving the people at their doorsteps, raised expectations to such a high level that the electorate started expecting wonders. That obviously hasn’t happened despite the tireless efforts of Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who is now often found complaining that unlike Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif he doesn’t have a brother ruling in the Centre who could help him with federal government patronage, favours and funds. One would increasingly be hearing such complaints as the countdown to the next general election begins.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.