As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan prepares to embark on his ‘long march’ to Islamabad on August 14, it is pertinent to ask if his party is strong and disciplined enough to accomplish its declared mission of forcing a political change in the country by toppling the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through street power and ushering in a ‘new Pakistan’.
One indicator of the PTI’s preparedness to do the job should come from the one-year performance of the coalition government headed by it in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. By all accounts, the provincial government’s performance has been far below expectations. The promised ‘change’ isn’t visible and those who voted in large numbers for the PTI have started criticising it. If the PTI isn’t able to perform better, the politically conscious voters in the province would live up to their reputation by rejecting it in the next election the way they made the ruling MMA, ANP and PPP accountable in the previous polls.
It is true that coalition governments are difficult to run as all the parties forming it want to implement their manifestoes and do things their own way. However, it is also true that the problematic party in the coalition has been the PTI, which lacks discipline in its ranks and continues to suffer from the never-ending tussle between its old and new members. The PTI has already lost one coalition partner, Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party, after its two ministers, Bakht Baidar Khan and Ibrar Hussain, were sacked on corruption charges. The leaders of the two remaining junior coalition partners, Jamaat-i-Islami and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan, frequently complain that the PTI keeps them in the dark with regard to decision-making and policies. PTI workers are increasingly unhappy with the party leadership due to lack of direction about major political issues and not many are happy with their party’s government and elected representatives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A recent picture published in the newspapers was revealing as it helped one understand the changes that the PTI has undergone since it caught the imagination of the people after managing to bring a large number of people to its Minar-i-Pakistan public meeting in Lahore on October 30, 2011.
Soon afterwards the party started attracting both political and apolitical people, including opportunists and turncoats. Before long, the newcomers in the PTI began to dominate its decision-making bodies much to the anger of the old and committed workers who had stood by Imran Khan when he had no chance of coming into power.
The picture was taken at the Frontier House, Peshawar on the occasion of the distribution of food vouchers and bags of flour under the provincial government’s programme costing Rs7 billion to provide flour and vegetable ghee to 5.5 million poor people on subsidised rates. Flanking Imran Khan are people who joined him when he became a serious contender for power after the Lahore public meeting.
Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has to be there in the picture, but he too isn’t among the ‘old’ PTI workers as he joined it after the Lahore public meeting. It was on December 12, 2011 that he formally ended his association with the PPP and joined the PTI in presence of Imran Khan in Islamabad. It was interesting to note that the three reasons listed by him for joining the PTI didn’t include anything regarding the party programme or Imran Khan’s leadership qualities. Instead, he said the proposed electoral alliance between the PPP and ANP left no option for him and his independent group of lawmakers but to join another party as the tickets for contesting the 2013 general election would have gone to the PPP and ANP candidates only. The two other reasons that prompted him to join the PTI, in his own words, was the existence of a “group of conspirators” in the PPP led by provincial minister Liaqat Shabab that worked against him and the corrupt practices of the ministers forming the provincial cabinet.
To his credit though, it can be said that Pervez Khattak after joining the PTI has supported every decision taken by Imran, whether right or wrong, even if he thought otherwise on the basis of his more than three decades experience in politics. He was amply rewarded for his loyalty as Imran Khan appointed him the chief minister after initially toying with the idea of giving the exalted office to Asad Qaiser, who had been associated with the party for 16 long years and had defeated Pervez Khattak in the party elections for the post of provincial president. The clinching argument for preferring Pervez Khattak over Asad Qaiser was the former’s longer experience in politics and his stints as minister in different governments and the latter’s inexperience as he had never held any public office and had won an assembly seat for the first time in 2013.
Returning to the picture under discussion, all others visible in it are ‘lateral entrants’ in the PTI. Among them is Mushtaq Ghani, who won election as an independent candidate in May 2013 for the provincial assembly seat, PK-44 Abbottabad, and then joined the PTI. He hasn’t looked back since then as he was initially made an adviser to the chief minister for higher education before being promoted as minister. Recently, he was given additional charge as minister of information. He would now be the spokesman of a party that he joined after the May 2013 election.
In fact, Mushtaq Ghani rejoined the PTI as he had been a prominent member and office-bearer of the party in the past before abandoning it. Mushtaq Ghani was instrumental in getting Imran Khan to contest for the National Assembly seat from Abbottabad in the 1997 general election. Imran Khan could get about 5,000 votes only in a lopsided contest won decisively by PML-N’s Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan.
Mushtaq Ghani’s decision to quit PTI had infuriated Imran Khan to the extent that he had declared that Mushtaq Ghani, along with two other PTI defectors and former provincial ministers, Mohsin Ali Khan from Karak and Shahzada Gustasap Khan from Mansehra, would never be allowed to rejoin the party. Just when one thought the doors of the PTI had been permanently shut down on Mushtaq Ghani, Imran Khan quietly allowed him to rejoin the party. In a chat then with this writer, Mushtaq Ghani had remarked that the PTI doors were opened for him when he won election to the provincial assembly in 2013.
His wife Farzana Mushtaq Ghani was an MNA elected on the reserved seats for women on the PML-Q ticket in the previous assembly. Mushtaq Ghani had also remained provincial general secretary of PML-Q when it was the ‘king’s party’ serving General Pervez Musharraf’s political agenda and trying to help him to remain in power forever in his army uniform.
Qalandar Lodhi is also seen in the picture and he too is a late entrant in the PTI. He had been part of the PML-Q in the previous assembly and had opted to contest the 2013 election as an independent. Once elected from an Abbottabad constituency, the PTI not only welcomed him into its fold but also made him a minister holding the prized portfolio of food.
Also in the picture is Mohammad Azam Swati, who too is a newcomer in PTI but has rapidly risen in the ranks to become the party’s president for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Earlier, he was a top leader of Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F and was elected Senator on its ticket. He had lived for years in the US and earned enough money to launch his political career in Pakistan to first become district nazim of Mansehra and then member of the Senate.
Sardar Mohammad Idrees, another Hazara politician from Abbottabad who has become quite adept at changing parties, is also seen in the picture with Imran Khan. He had been a JUI-F lawmaker and minister in the MMA government that ruled the province from 2002-2008. He later joined the PPP and remained with it as long as it was in power from 2008-2013. By the time of the 2013 general election, he had joined the PTI and was elected MPA on its ticket. He hasn’t yet been made a minister, but was appointed chairman of the powerful district development advisory committee for Abbottabad. It should surprise nobody if Sardar Idrees picks up yet another party to contest the next general election because this is what he has been doing all these years.
There are several other lawmakers who weren’t around when this picture was taken, but are enjoying power after joining the PTI when its fortunes rose in the wake of the October 2011 public meeting in Lahore.
Most of these ‘newcomers’ are unlikely to remain with the PTI once it is no longer in power. Their association with the PTI is for the sake of power and not because they feel inspired by the party’s ideology and manifesto or Imran Khan’s leadership. There is no doubt a large number of young and some old people still believe in Imran Khan and are at his beck and call as he prepares to storm the federal capital, but many others as explained above would start abandoning him if his chances of coming to power recede. And the promise of ‘change’ and a ‘new Pakistan’ is also losing its shine, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the PTI government’s performance over the past 14 months has left much to be desired.