The Jamaat-i-Islami is presently the only coalition partner of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and it is trying to use its position to good advantage.
It had campaigned for months to seek the sacking of Shamsul Qayyum, the managing director of the Bank of Khyber owned by the province, for publicly making accusations of misuse of power, corruption and interference in the bank’s affairs against provincial Finance Minister Muzaffar Sayyid, a Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) lawmaker from its stronghold of Lower Dir district. The accusations were particularly painful as these were made at a time when the JI had launched a countrywide awareness campaign against corruption. Many had started believing the allegations as the JI has had particular interest in controlling the Bank of Khyber’s affairs through the party’s finance ministers in the past.
The JI finally succeeded in forcing Chief Minister Pervez Khattak to fire the bank’s managing director when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led provincial government became weak and vulnerable due to its decision to expel the Aftab Sherpao-headed Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) from the ruling coalition. It was a hard-earned victory for the JI as until then it appeared helpless in settling scores with the banker.
Though Shamsul Qayyum, a resourceful banker with backing from certain bureaucrats and politicians, has now started a legal challenge to his removal as managing director before the expiry of his term, the JI got political mileage from his dismissal as it could now claim that his allegations against Finance Minister Muzaffar Sayyid were baseless. The JI’s stand had earlier been vindicated by a cabinet committee tasked to investigate the issue that found Shamsul Qayyum at fault and exonerated Muzaffar Sayyid of all charges.
The JI is also resisting the PTI decision to bring certain reforms in the education sector, particularly in context of recruitment of teachers. The relations between the two long-time allies have been far from cordial as the PTI on the basis of its numerical strength in the assembly has sometimes taken decisions without consulting the JI or by ignoring its viewpoint. The PTI leadership believes it has given enough representation and powers to the JI in the government even though it has only seven MPAs in the 125-member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The JI has three ministers — Inayatullah, Muzaffar Sayyid and Habibur Rahman — holding the important portfolios of local government, finance and religious affairs and Auqaf.
In terms of the JI strength in the assembly, it is over-represented in the government and this at times hasn’t gone well with the PTI lawmakers, particularly those aspiring for a berth in the cabinet or the party’s ministers holding unattractive portfolios. In fact, the JI never had it so good with full representation in the government despite having a small number of assembly seats. This is the reason it has stayed part of the ruling coalition despite the occasional and sometimes provocative one-sided decision-making by the PTI.
The JI is an ideological Islamic party, but its politics is primarily traditional and constituency-based and elected representatives, whether in the assemblies or local government, have always taken care to serve their voters needing help in the thana and kutchery. This type of politics can only be done if the party is represented in the government and has the power to oblige the electorate. The JI activists point out that the party suffered as it lost touch with many voters when it boycotted the 2008 general election and remained out of the assemblies.
The PTI has had reasons to complain about the JI stand on some issues. It wanted the JI to be its ally on not only provincial issues, but also those concerning the federal government. It was frustrated when the JI didn’t support its aggressive campaign for the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The JI, on the other hand, has always argued that its alliance with the PTI is restricted to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is issue-based. In fact, the QWP had made the same argument as it too, like the JI, didn’t want to be part of the PTI’s belligerent agitation against the PML-N government. However, the PTI twice shunted the QWP out of its provincial government, once by levelling charges of corruption against its ministers and then by accusing it of not siding with it in its political campaign targeting Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N.
However, the PTI didn’t take similar action against the JI as it found the Islamic party a more reliable partner than the QWP. Also, the JI could be PTI’s potential electoral ally in the 2018 general election in a situation in which there is little possibility that other political parties would strike an alliance with the PTI.
It is therefore imperative for the PTI to keep the JI by its side not only to ensure survival of its provincial government, but also to see to it that the two parties maintain sufficient goodwill for each other to be able to jointly contest the next polls.
Both the PTI and JI have certain things in common in terms of their ideology, worldview and stress on anti-corruption governance, but their following is quite different and therefore unlikely to enthusiastically share the same platform.
JI’s alliance with the PTI could also prove a hurdle to the wish of some of the religio-political parties to revive the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the alliance of six Islamic parties that did remarkably well in the 2002 election by sweeping the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and forming its government, becoming part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan and dominating the opposition to the federal government of PML-Q, the king’s party created by military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to serve his purpose for prolonging his rule. In particular, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, which dominated the MMA on account of its better representation in the assemblies following the 2002 polls, has been bitterly critical of the JI for being part of the coalition government led by the PTI. The JUI-F and the PTI are fierce rivals as the former has been accusing Imran Khan of being an agent of the Jews and in its view the JI has committed a sin by becoming PTI’s ally.
It seems the JI and PTI would continue to co-exist as coalition partners as long as possible because remaining in the government until the next June’s polls has its benefits. They could complete their major development projects, execute schemes in their lawmakers’ constituencies and oblige more voters. Separation and any subsequent blame-game would harm their cause and expose any wrong-doings. Unless anything extraordinary happens, the JI won’t quit the PTI-led provincial government until the 2018 general election.