One has heard many people remarking that Imran Khan risked losing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in his bid for power at the Centre.
And some add that he could end up not only losing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where his party is in power, but also fail in becoming a strong contender for the office of the prime minister.
The events of the past two weeks have shown that those making such comments could be eventually proved right. Disillusionment with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is spreading. In fact, the provincial government became almost paralysed because Chief Minister Pervez Khattak was camping in Islamabad along with his ministers as they were required to participate in the PTI’s protest sit-in and ensure a good attendance of workers. The chief minister drew flak for his absence from Peshawar when the city was struck twice by devastating rainstorm that killed up to 30 persons and destroyed houses. He was slow to respond when the tragedy struck the first time and tried to make amends by rushing to Peshawar after the second thunderstorm hit the provincial capital within few days. However, his efforts were wasted when he was seen dancing on the stage on top of Imran Khan’s container to celebrate his leader’s illusionary victory against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifgovernment.
The incident didn’t go well with the people in the largely conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, more so at a time when tragedy had twice hit scores of poor families in Peshawar. Though most Pakhtuns are aware that members of the fun-loving Khattak tribe to which Pervez Khattak belongs find it difficult not to dance whenever they hear beating of drums and playing of music, the people expected him to show restraint in his capacity as the chief minister of a province that has suffered a number of natural disaster and is still suffering from militancy, military operations and displacement.
It is no secret that the PTI government has been lurching from one crisis to another since its installation in June 2013. It lost one coalition partner, Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party, and has difficulty in maintaining good working relations with its two other allies. To accommodate party MPAs, it had to appoint an expanding cabinet and accommodate others as advisers, special assistants and parliamentary secretaries. A PTI minister and an adviser had to be sacked for ‘poor’ performance.
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The PTI, already known for indiscipline in its ranks, is experiencing growing differences on the issue of resignations from the assemblies. A group of dissidents, all of them hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has emerged among the members of the National Assembly and is refusing to put in their resignations in defiance of the decision taken by the party leadership. Former bureaucrat Gulzar Khan, elected MNA from rural Peshawar, is heading the group that appears to have six confirmed members and could attract more once the Speaker of the National Assembly invites them to personally verify if they really had resigned from their seats.
Already, a 14-member ‘pressure’ group has been operating for some months in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and more could join it or even form another faction if and when the PTI leadership decided to ask its lawmakers to resign from the provincial legislature as well. Most PTI MPAs and all the lawmakers of the other parties having representation in the provincial assembly are in no mood to resign. Opposition to the dissolution of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly is strong and visible across the political divide and any such move by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on the instruction of his party head Imran Khan would be widely unpopular and fiercely resisted.
In fact, the urge to save the provincial assembly brought together the normally fractious opposition parties to initiate the no-confidence motion against the chief minister as the move has constitutionally bound his hands from dissolving it. For the time-being at least, the provincial assembly cannot be dissolved. This would also have relieved Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who has publicly opposed the dissolution of the provincial assembly and even given assurances to the lawmakers that no such move was under consideration. Critics even claimed that the chief minister gave the nod when the opposition decided to launch the no-trust move against him as it strengthened his hands to resist any demand by Imran Khan to pack up the provincial assembly.
The dissolution of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly would be suicidal for the PTI as it could lead to split in the party and damage its chances of producing the impressive electoral performance that it achieved in the 2013 general election. To be fair to the ruling PTI, 15 months aren’t enough to judge the performance of a government, more so if it is a coalition of three parties (the other two being Jamaat-e-Islami and the small Tarakai family-led Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan based in Swabi district). PTI’s ambitious reform programme of ‘change’ certainly needs more time to materialise. A number of promising laws, including the right to information and right to services and the setting up of an accountability commission, have been passed by the assembly and certain pro-people policy initiatives have been finalised, but their impact would become visible if properly implemented. Corruption is less and far below the level witnessed during the five-year rule of the previous ANP-PPP coalition government. However, this isn’t enough because the PTI leadership had promised a lot more than it could have reasonably achieved and the most frequent comment on its government’s performance is the lack of ‘change’ that it repeatedly promised.
There is lot of unhappiness in the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to a number of reasons. There are complaints galore against the party’s elected representatives, some of whom are inaccessible to the workers. Grievances have been piling up against the PTI government as the party activists want to benefit from their party’s rule in the province just like the other political parties, particularly the PPP and ANP that took interest in obliging their workers by providing them jobs and contracts for development projects.
Though the PTI did very well in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the May 2013 general election and won the most assembly seats and votes, one occasionally hears complaints from party activists about the inadequate representation of the province in the PTI’s decision-making bodies, including the central executive committee which is constitutional and the ‘core committee’ that is unconstitutional.
When the PTI Chairman Imran Khan constituted a five-member committee to negotiate with the federal government during the ongoing political crisis caused by his and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s protest sit-ins in Islamabad, there wasn’t any leader from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in it to represent the party. The negotiations committee was led by the party’s Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and central General Secretary Jehangir Tareen, Asad Umar, Arif Alvi and Aleem Khan were initially named as its members. Later, the lapse was rectified and Pervez Khattak replaced Aleem Khan, president of PTI Lahore unit to give representation to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Javed Hashmi too was made member of the committee after his recovery from illness. Such lapses may be minor, but these become major ones when repeated. And the lapses keep happening due to the inherent flaws in the working of the PTI, which is primarily a one-man show with Imran Khan holding centre-stage as the proven vote-getter. By virtue of his star power, he has been running the party to suit his whims and it is rare that he is challenged by those around him as they owe their positions to him.