October Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 18 years ago

Ten months isn’t a long time to judge the performance of a provincial government. But the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) government in the NWFP has attracted so much attention at home and abroad that a review of its short stay in office has become necessary. It is also time to take a look at the challenges confronting the MMA as its six component parties struggle to maintain the unity of their religious alliance.

The kind of problems the MMA government is facing is evident from the clamour by component parties for a share in power in the Frontier. Chief minister Akram Durrani’s 12-member cabinet is likely to see an expansion in the near future so that the MPAs belonging to the four smaller parties in the MMA can be made ministers. Of late, Maulana Samiul Haq’s JUI-S, Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani’s JUP, Professor Sajid Mir’s Jamiat Ahle Hadith, and Allama Syed Sajid Naqvi’s Tehrik-i-Islami have been agitating, demanding representation in the provincial cabinet. The NWFP chapters of the JUI-S and JUP even threatened to pull out of the MMA if their MPAs weren’t made ministers. Except the JUI-S, which has two MPAs out of 69 affiliated to the MMA in the NWFP Assembly, the other smaller parties have one MPA each. One of the JUI-S members, Ikramullah Shahid, has already been accommodated by being appointed the deputy speaker of the provincial assembly, while its second MPA, Mohammad Ayaz Khan, along with those from the JUP, Jamiat Ahle Hadith and Tehrik-i-Islami will most likely be inducted into the cabinet to keep them happy and part of the MMA. New ministers will also be taken from the JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami, the two major MMA components, to oblige some more MPAs and provide representation to under-represented districts.

However, this policy of appeasement will make the cabinet large and unwieldy. This will obviously disappoint those in the NWFP who were hoping that the clear mandate won by the MMA, after the split electoral results in almost every general election since 1947, would lead to a small and compact merit-based cabinet.

Differences in the MMA have clearly affected the working and performance of Chief Minister Durrani’s government. In fact, the MMA government faces its biggest threat from within its ranks. The opposition in the NWFP Assembly suffers from so much division that an independent MPA, Shahzada Gustasap Khan, was made the parliamentary leader.

For almost 10 months, ideologically disparate parties such as the nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), the pro-General Musharraf PML-Q, Benazir Bhutto’s PPPP, Aftab Sherpao’s PPP-S and the PML-N failed to agree on someone from among themselves as the opposition parliamentary leader. Their only common ground is opposition to the MMA, which trounced all of them in last year’s elections in the Frontier. The two PPP factions are bitterly opposed to each other, the PML-Q wants to keep the PPPP and PML-N at bay, and the ANP wants to focus its attention on blocking the construction of the Kalabagh dam and renaming the NWFP Pakhtunkhwa in a bid to recapture the nationalist vote. The PML-N until now has been unconditionally supporting the MMA government in the NWFP, but it has now made its backing conditional.

The JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the two major components of the MMA, suffer from a distrust of each other. The former has the biggest number of MMA seats in the National Assembly, Senate and the provincial assemblies in the NWFP and Balochistan. In fact, by itself it bagged all the National Assembly and Balochistan Assembly seats that were won by the MMA, and is now the junior coalition partner with the PML-Q in that province. The JI prided itself on being the largest Islamic party in the country but its claim was punctured when the JUI-F emerged as the most successful MMA component in the October 2002 polls. Now the JI has to play second fiddle to the JUI-F and Maulana Fazlur Rahman by virtue of his party’s parliamentary strength, has to be accepted as the most powerful MMA leader.

In the NWFP, JI legislators and even some cabinet members often complain of a lack of consultation by Chief Minister Durrani. The chief minister was handpicked for the job by his party leader, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and is, therefore, obliged to give precedence to the wishes of the JUI-F chief. In fact, the repeated assertion by critics that Durrani took orders from the maulana and his brothers recently provoked the chief minister to declare that he was his own man. Durrani’s desire to undertake major development projects in his native Bannu and his soft corner for Bannuchis is also attracting flak from both, his allies and rivals. In fact, the opposition parties are alleging that Bannu, along with Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s constituency in Dera Ismail Khan, and senior minister Sirajul Haq’s native Lower Dir district, got the lion’s share in the annual development programme for the province. Even the MMA MPAs complained of discrimination, and at least six angry JUI-F members had to be consoled by Maulana Fazlur Rahman and promised a share in development projects.

Performance-wise, the MMA government has been describing the unanimous passage of the Shariat Bill by the provincial assembly on June 2 as its biggest achievement. It was an election promise that had to be fulfilled and its adoption by the assembly was officially celebrated. However, the government has failed to notify the three commissions that had to be formed under the terms of the Shariat Act within a month of its passage in the assembly. Two of the commissions were required to give recommendations on reforming and Islamising the economy and system of education in the province. The third was a judicial reforms commission for the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). The delay in setting up the commissions and the absence of a time-frame to accomplish their assigned task has fuelled doubts about whether the MMA government was really keen on enforcing Shariat or buying time.

The provincial government is no longer pushed to move the controversial Hasba Bill in the NWFP Assembly. Both the federal government and the NWFP Governor, Lt. Gen (retd.) Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah had expressed reservations over some of the proposed clauses in the bill and sought clarifications and amendments in the draft. One major concern also voiced by human rights groups and anti-MMA parties was the likely emergence of a parallel system of justice manned by politicised clergymen. The delay in presenting the Hasba Bill in the assembly has given rise to speculation that the MMA leadership is reviewing the contents of the bill to make it less controversial.

Chief Minister Durrani and other MMA leaders have also faced embarrassment for being kept in the dark about raids carried out by federal government agencies against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members in settled parts of the NWFP. The MMA government has no say in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that border Afghanistan, but it expected Islamabad to take it into confidence about the operations conducted by the ISI and other federal agencies in settled districts and Afghan refugees camps. The MMA ministers have also tempered their anti-US and pro-Taliban stance in keeping with the requirements of their job.

Some of the major initiatives of the MMA government are at the take-off stage. Steps to introduce interest-free banking through the government-owned Bank of Khyber have made a slow headway. An endowment fund with a starting allocation of 100 million rupees is being set up to provide free treatment to needy patients suffering from six deadly diseases such as cancer, heart and kidney ailments, burn injuries, etc. Draft laws have been prepared to protect the rights of women by making honour killings and giving three “talaqs (divorces) in one go cognisable offences, outlawing the practice of “swara” in which women are given in marriage to settle blood-feuds, and ensuring that women inherit their share in property. Certain long-standing development projects have been revived, Urdu has been declared and enforced as the official language, and education up to matriculation has been made free.

On the positive side, the chief minister and his cabinet members have remained accessible. Protocol hasn’t completly vanished, but an air of simplicity has been visible in the dealings of the chief minister and the ministers with the public. No scandal or tales of corruption have emanated from the NWFP’s corridors of power. The law and order situation has remained under control and there have been none of the wheat and atta shortages that earned infamy for provincial governments in the past.

While the MMA’s popularity has certainly declined and the incumbency factor has taken its toll on the provincial government, the opposition parties appear ill-prepared to take advantage of the drop in the MMA’s ratings.

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.