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At the centre of power struggle

As the intense tug of war for influence and power within the PTI continues, questions about Imran Khan holding fort are being asked

At the centre of power struggle

It is evident that the first year of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has been challenging. The rhetoric of ‘change’ through good governance is now haunting the PTI itself. The talk of groupings and differences within the party is being seen as the prime reason behind bad governance.

Speaking in Geo News’ programme, Capital Talk before the July 2018 general elections, Imran Khan acknowledged the presence of various groups in his party, including the one led by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, another by Jahangir Tareen. Also, its no secret that Imran Khan postponed the intra-party in 2016 because of the differences between Qureshi and Tareen.

Then, if you recall, the tug-of-war in the PTI for the slot of Chief Minister KP was so intense that former CM, Pervez Khattak, refused to be part of the federal cabinet and threatened to resign with his group members from the provincial and national seats in KP soon after the 2018 general election. He wanted to be the CM KP for another term.

Back then, former Education Minister KP, Atif Khan, was also a contender for the CM’s position. Reportedly, before the elections, Imran Khan had given his word to Khan, that he would consider him for the CM post. Atif Khan’s relative and former Provincial Health Minister, Shahram Khan Tarakai, with some newly-elected MPAs, had also extended support to Khan.

The third contender for the post was Asad Qaiser, who had won both the provincial and National Assembly seats, but was unacceptable to Pervez Khattak and others. Imran Khan was so worried about the differences among party leaders over the CM slot that he had to hold series of meetings with them, ultimately managing to convince them on Mahmood Khan.

Since the PTI managed to secure governments in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Centre in 2018, the groupings within the party have become even stronger.

Hanif Ur Rehman, senior journalist and Controller Khyber News, is convinced that initially there were only three groups in the KP, creating problems for each other till July 2018 general elections “but the number of rival groups has increased now”. Chief Minister Mahmood Khan who was considered Pervez Khattak or Jahangir Tareen’s nominee “is reportedly collaborating with Federal Minister for Communications and Postal Services, Murad Saeed” since both belong to the Swat district. “Governor Shah Farman, a close aide of Imran Khan, is trying to implement his agenda in the province – different from others.”

In a recent war of words, Qureshi criticised Tareen for participating in the federal cabinet’s meetings despite being disqualified from holding public office. Qureshi considered it a clear violation of the Supreme Court orders in 2017.

Rehman adds that former Chief Secretary KP, Muhammad Azam Khan, is now working as Principal Secretary to the PM along with Arbab Shehzad, former bureaucrat and advisor to PM. “They are directly involved in the postings and promotions of bureaucracy in the province. It has become a great challenge for politicians to approve and execute projects. Take the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). It was first Pervez Khattak’s brainchild, now adversaries in the government and bureaucrats are standing firm against this mega project”.

Because of this tug-of-war “not a single new mega project has been announced, nor the previous ones completed since PTI’s second term in the province,” he adds.

The situation is quite the same in the Centre, with senior party leaders — Jahangir Tareen and Shah Mehmood Qureshi running the two most influential groups. In a recent war of words, Qureshi criticised Tareen for participating in federal cabinet’s meetings despite being disqualified from holding public office. Qureshi considered it a clear violation of the Supreme Court orders in 2017. But Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda came out to defend Tareen’s presence in the meetings. They applauded his role in the party’s instrumental win in the July 2018 general elections, saying only Chairman PTI can dictate them on dos and don’ts.

While talking to TNS, Mazhar Barlas, senior political analyst, says that Finance Minister Asad Umar and Imran Khan’s relative Saifullah Khan Niazi have their separate influential groups in Islamabad. “Asad Umar appointed his close aides in all the departments. The board of governors that were operational under his ministry mostly belonged to the company he used to work for.”

Saifullah Niazi has been appointed as Chief Organiser of the PTI by Prime Minister Imran Khan. He will be responsible for reorganisation of the party in all the four provinces, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Islamabad and overseas. His other responsibilities are of formulating policy, finalising the party constitution and preparing the party for parliamentary and local bodies elections.

In 2016, Saifullah Niazi had submitted his resignation to the PTI Chairman, making serious allegations that the party had been sold to Jahangir Tareen. “Saifullah enjoys a good relationship with Imran Khan and now being the chief organiser, he is certainly in a better position to maneuver the situation,” Barlas believes.

Now, with the resignation of Asad Umar from the federal cabinet, some change in the power struggle within the party is but expected. Will Umar’s aides still hold fort? Time will tell.

“Regrettably, these groups have dragged the Prime Minister to such a situation where everything appears shady for him – the main reason behind bad governance,” Barlas adds.

The same concerns were expressed by former President PTI, Javed Hashmi, in October 2018. While talking to the media in Multan, he said the PTI was divided into five groups and the PM would be unable to handle the groups’ affairs and differences.

Also read: When silence becomes a political issue

The groupings and their differences have affected Punjab’s politics as well. Amjad Warraich, a political analyst, says the continuous tug-of-war is increasing discontentment among party workers. “There are four groups in the party trying to be influential for the coming local bodies elections. The groups are: The South Punjab group led by CM Usman Buzdar, Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar and Mehmood ur Rasheed led group supported by the Qureshi group at the Centre, Aleem Khan group with the support of Jahangir Tareen, and party workers and office bearers against elected members.

He says the rift between Chief Minister Buzdar and Governor Chaudhry Sarwar “was noticed over the recent appointments of bureaucrats. On the chief minister’s reservations, Rabia Zia, a close aide to the governor and Naeem Bukhari, was ousted from the good governance committee.” He says Inspector General Police, Amjad Javed Saleemi, Punjab governor’s selection, has been replaced with Captain (retd) Arif Nawaz Khan. “Apparently, CM Buzdar has successfully shifted the balance in the provincial capital in his favour by replacing the governor’s supported bureaucrats with his picked ones.”

On the other hand, many disgruntled party leaders have set up their own organisational bodies in their respective areas and appointed office-bearers. According to Warraich, that step has instigated great discomfort for the elected parliamentarians and it has been brought to the notice of party’s Chairman and Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Certainly, power is the bone of contention between Qureshi and Tareen. This tussle has damaged the party and paralysed federal and provincial governments.”

Shehryar Warraich

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The author is a member of the staff and can be reached at [email protected]

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