If Bhutto gave voice to Pakistan’s poor, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf did the same for the country’s educated middle classes. PTI is now 21 years old, a fairly long time for a party that is still a relatively new entrant to Pakistan’s political game. Where does it stand today in terms of its ideology and its differences with its arch rival, the PML-N?
Ideology. Does that term even have any meaning in a polity that is deprived of basic necessities like security of life and work, uninterrupted supply of electricity and gas, and rapid inflation? For a vast number of people lacking an existential threat (mainly Sunni Punjabi men in Pakistan), liberal ideologies that address human or women’s rights hold no resonance. In a post war-on-terror world, right-wing religious ideologies are also not as appealing.
This is why PTI’s stated ideological stances seem to waver over time and space. While its manifesto seeks the creation of an Islamic welfare state, the party leader, Imran Khan, is known to stray from this stance on different occasions. He stated in a verified Facebook post in 2015 that “every Pakistani is equal by rights regardless of their religion; state has no religion”. To add further confusion to what exactly PTI’s ideology is regarding religion and state, its official documents, such as the KPK Ehtasab Commission Report, start with one quotation from the Quran and one from Hadith.
However, the creation of an Islamic Welfare State has found no practical application in the 131 bills passed by the KPK assembly in its four years of governance so far. Other than the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Interests on Private Loans Bill, there has been no legislation that could perceivably be viewed as leading to the formation of an Islamic Welfare State. Another law providing for transparency in affairs of charitable and religious trusts has been enacted by the KPK government, however.
Corruption has been the rallying cry of PTI’s leadership since the party’s inception. Imran Khan, cricketer and founder of Pakistan’s first cancer hospital, became the poster child of the country’s middle classes that could neither relate to the poor and uneducated rural masses, nor the protected feudals and industrialists. Khan appealed to a wide spectrum of the rapidly urbanising salaried classes who felt increasingly disillusioned with the PML-N — a party most concerned with its voter base of small and large traders — as well as the PPP, dismissed outside of its interior Sindh base as a corrupt and spent political force. PTI has ridden on the back of its focus on financial corruption, but now faces turbulence as Imran Khan, too, fights off charges of financial impropriety in the Supreme Court.
In the KPK Assembly, the corruption-related bills that the PTI has passed have run into several snags. The 2014 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ehtasab Commission Bill, a document that was meant to expedite anti-corruption processes has seen a number of amendments since its passing which have made it less effective. The resignation of the Ehtasab Commission’s Director General also added to the confusion. This was compounded by an inability to replace him.
Nonetheless, 1020 complaints of corruption were registered by the Ehtasab Commission according to its annual report published in 2016. Out of those, 166 cases have been decided while the rest remain pending. Another healthy indicator of the Ehtasab Commission’s report is that there is an attempt to hold the organisation internally accountable and the official narrative does not gloss over the mistakes that have been committed in its governance.
However, the PTI has also been caught red-handed in fabrication and corruption when it put up bloated performance figures on social media that were later negated by the KPK education ministry, thereby casting doubts on PTI’s own claims of incorruptibility. While the PTI social media team and PTI leaders tweeted that 12,031 additional classrooms were built around the province, the figures from the department showed that actually 7937 rooms were built.
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An average difference of 3000 was reported between the PTI’s account and the KPK official figures in the following categories as well: boundary walls, group latrines, water supply, electrification and solar panels. An important thing to note here is that this discrepancy between the official departmental figures and those released by PTI’s social media accounts was caught thanks to the Right to Information Bill (2013) enacted by the PTI government itself.
Another negation of PTI’s strong anti-corruption ideology is the bills the KPK assembly passed increasing lawmakers’ salaries. The assembly revised the salaries and privileges of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, lawmakers and ministers three times during three and a half years.
Another aspect of corruption can be seen in a report by FAFEN (Free and Fair Election Network), “Despite the impressive number and progressive nature of bills, KP Assembly did not follow the norms in passage of almost all legislations. Only two in every 20 bills introduced were referred to committees for detailed review, findings and soliciting feedback from stakeholders and remaining all were passed without any committee reviews. KP Assembly is the only legislature in Pakistan that does not require mandatory scrutiny of legislations by a committee. Effective committee system is crucial to maximise the ownership of legislations.”
Although PTI’s manifesto stressed upon the need for one education system with native language and Urdu being the bedrocks of this education, the KPK assembly has not passed a single bill so far that deals with elementary education or addresses the various systems of education prevalent within the country. The one bill dealing with elementary education that was passed is only concerned with the management related matters of these institutions.
Interestingly, the bulk of complaints that have been registered by the Ehtasab Commission have been against Elementary and Secondary Education departments. This might be due to the fact that it is one of the biggest provincial departments and also has a high number of stakeholders, i.e, students and parents. Another possible reason could be the huge amount of funds received by the education department from sources like DFID (Department for International Development).
Newspaper reports published at the end of 2014 revealed that the PTI government caved in to the pressure of its coalition partners — the Jamaat-e-Islami — by adding Islamic and nationalistic elements to its textbooks. Pictures of girls with their heads uncovered were removed from the syllabus whereas Quranic verses and hadith were added at the beginning of Chemistry textbooks. These acts add further confusion to the ideological stances of the PTI that have remained inconsistent across the board.