October Issue 2014

By | News & Politics | Published 5 years ago

Whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will succumb to the sustained pressure of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and resign is not yet clear. However the sit-in staged by Imran Khan and his supporters in Islamabad has kicked off a debate about the performance of the PTI-led coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In the May 2013 elections, the PTI emerged as a leading political party raising the slogan of ‘change,’ and for the people of the province, it was a time of hope: they expected dramatic changes to be ushered in by the PTI.

“Unlike the past when [new] regimes wasted a lot of time on planning, the Tehreek-i-Insaf is already set to implement the plans it has been preparing for the last two years,” said Pervez Khan Khattak in his inaugural speech after taking oath as the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

But that was then. In barely one year, the lustre has faded. Political observers believe that if the past year’s rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is taken as a barometer of the PTI’s performance, then the party has failed to achieve its election promises. Some PTI leaders actually acknowledge this fact. And while some experienced hands in party ranks claim to have asked the party chairman “not to be disillusioned by our performance in KP,” the cold, harsh reality is that in the case of a re-election, until it takes some dramatic remedial measures, the party is almost surely bound to lose.

“I have told Imran not once, but several times, that the PTI’s performance in KP is next to nil,” says Qurban Ali Khan, PTI member KP assembly. “And also that the party is sure to lose future elections if it continues in this manner.”

Since August 14, when the Azadi March took off from Khan’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore and culminated in a sit-in at D-Chowk Islamabad, the PTI leadership has been repeatedly demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign on the grounds that the May 2013 elections were rigged.  Meanwhile, PTI MPs in the National Assembly have submitted their resignations to the speaker.

But not everyone is convinced of the PTI’s imminent victory in this war. “Frankly speaking we have done nothing to impress the voters. All we have today are hollow slogans, nothing else,” says Qurban Ali Khan. “Maybe the party position is better in Punjab, but in KP it would be hard to score even half of the current number of seats in another election.”

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Analysts say people voted for PTI in the 2013 elections because of  Khan’s charisma and his clear stand on certain issues related to KP. But old rumours are circulating once again that some ground-levelling was also done for the PTI victory. Media campaigns were launched presenting the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as “bad dogs.” Besides being widely perceived as the most corrupt party, the ANP’s prospects were further stymied because its members were confined to the four walls of their houses, as terrorists continued a relentless operation targeting the nationalists. Whether this was part of a bigger plan to clear the field for the PTI is not clear.

What is evident though is that just a year later, the party has lost much of its attraction for even change-crazy voters.

“By all accounts, the provincial government’s performance is far below expectations,” says senior political analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai. “The promised ‘change’ isn’t visible, and those who voted in large numbers for PTI have started criticising it.” He concurs with the view that if Khan’s hand-picked administration fails to deliver, the KP’s significantly politically conscious voters might well reject the PTI in the next elections.

A case in point: in the run-up to elections the party had claimed that it would depoliticise the bureaucracy and put an end to political interference and nepotism. However, it failed to implement its reform agenda. Today, the KP bureaucracy — once rated as the country’s best — is disenchanted and demoralised and no senior officer is willing to serve here.

As former chief secretary Arbab Shah Rukh Khan put it, “there exists a wide chasm between the party’s declared policy and practice.” The situation on the ground can be gauged by the fact that in just a year the province’s chief minister changed three chief secretaries, including Arbab Shah Rukh Khan, who had been hand-picked by the PTI itself to bring about reforms in the bureaucracy.

Giving vent to his pent-up emotions, the ex-chief secretary wrote a letter to the chief minister stating, “the strenuous efforts of my team [implementing the reform agenda] soon became a casualty to political expediency.

“[Resultantly] senior officers who disobliged [the PTI’s top guns] were humiliated openly, which disillusioned and disheartened the bureaucracy … transfers are frequent and made on directives with no regard to tenure or competence.”

All this notwithstanding, the PTI has unarguably managed to make a few gains. The party has chosen to focus attention on its legislative record, where it has been successful in passing a number of good laws, including the Right to Information Act, Access to Essential Services Act and assorted  accountability legislations.  But the naysayers refuse to credit the party with even these few successes.

“We can’t impress voters by mere legislation; they want their problems resolved,” says Qurban Ali Khan.  And opposition leader and former PTI ally, Sikandar Sherpao of the QWP chimes in saying, “Making laws is not a big achievement. Implementing law is the real test of an administration as the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

The general consensus is that improvements in the police, health and education sectors — hallmarks of the PTI manifesto — have also yet to materialise to the satisfaction of the electorate.

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But Saeed Khan — who served as IG Police in KP and Sindh — does not agree.  He talks of visible improvement in the police department and he gives the credit for this to the incumbent police chief Nasir Durrani.

“Durrani focused on corruption and efficiency,” says Khan, who retired in 2003 and is said to have recently visited the IG’s office for the first time since then to pat Durrani on the back. “He suspended senior officers including Inspectors, DSPs and SPs based on poor performance and corruption. These actions have a tremendous impact.”

Senior serving officers, however, are not satisfied with the changes. They contend that the reforms [to end corruption and political interference] are not institutional and hence not lasting.

“In the case of changes that have been made in the police command, the whole edifice will fall [if the government changes] as these are mere individual efforts,” says an AIG level officer who is considered one of the KP police’s ‘real brains.’

As for the KP education sector — another avowed PTI priority — the party has yet to match the performance of its predecessor, the ANP, according to Muhammad Ashfaq, a journalist who reports on this sector. “The PTI administration has failed to end politically-motivated postings and transfers of teachers and education officers,” he says. “The party has even failed to introduce the much talked about ‘cluster system’ to ensure attendance of teachers in primary schools,” he discloses.

To add to its problems, KP has been hit hard by a decade-long war and the influx of internally displaced people from the tribal agencies, where military operations are intermittently conducted.  As a result, unemployment and poverty are still rampant in the province. These were issues the PTI leadership had promised to address, vowing to create enough jobs even for people from other provinces seeking employment.

But in the first year of its rule, the party failed to spend 45 to 50 per cent of the budget for the province’s annual development programme (ADP) for 2013-14. Of the amount that was expended, officials confirm 50 per cent has been spent in the last quarter of the year.

Official sources add that international partners released just Rs 6 billion of a total of the expected Rs 35 billion foreign component in the ADP, withholding the rest because of a visible lack of direction, proper planning and the casual attitude of the PTI leadership.

“[The KP] industrial policy is in the final stages of being formulated and will soon be presented for approval in the cabinet,” says Riaz Daudzai, a local economic reporter. This belies the chief minister’s claims made in his inaugural speech that “plans are ready and we will start implementing them once we take office.”  So far, according to Daudzai, not a single industrial unit has been established during the PTI’s tenure. “Even much publicised projects like ‘Education City’ and the Peshawar Model Towns are yet to see the light of day,” he says.

“Who will establish industrial units or do business in the province when there is 15 to 16 hours of load-shedding daily, in addition to the high risk of extortion and kidnapping?” asks Ziaul Haq Sarhadi of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Given this backdrop, Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ seems to be a long way off.  If he had turned KP into the jewel of his crown, perhaps his pledges would have been easier to believe.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2014 issue.