Political and security dynamics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are different from those in the Punjab
ith the election process making progress in the Punjab, the pressure is mounting on the Election Commission to hold provincial elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Over the last ten years, the province has become a stronghold of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). In these ten years, the other political parties in the province have become weaker and almost numb due to the strong support and assistance to the PTI from various state institutions. From the bureaucracy in Health and Education Departments to the police, the PTI imprint is vivid. Despite the corruption cases involving billions of rupees, the federal government is reluctant to take action against the allegedly corrupt members of the party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, including the prime minister, appear to have removed Pakhtunkhwa from its political map in terms of constituency politics. The province is now considered and quoted as a PTI stronghold. The Pakistan Peoples Party appears limited to Sindh and the Muslim League-Nawaz to the Punjab. By using digital image building in popular politics, the PTI has set new precedents.
The caretaker government in the KP has been working closely with Governor Haji Ghulam Ali, a JUI nominee. The Awami National Party, the largest nationalist party in the province, seems unable to convince the people that they are not a part of the PDM. At the public level, it appears that it is the PTI versus other parties. In 2013, after years of war, the PTI formed a government in a stable and peaceful situation. However, it has left the province in a terrible law and order situation. In the last four months of the PTI government, many departments faced resource shortages making even the payment of salaries difficult. The police mobility was restricted.
The PTI and the then military leaders had held negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The matter was handled in naïve way; now the province has to suffer because of it. The Afghan Taliban are saying that the TTP activities in Pakistan are an internal matter for Pakistan. Sources say that the Pakistani authorities have provided the Afghan Taliban with concrete evidence of Pakistani Taliban centres in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The Afghan Taliban have indicated that they will take action against them, but it remains to be seen whether their assurances come to fruition.
The integration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is seen as a major issue for some actors. Billions of rupees provided for development in these areas were apparently invested by the PTI government in other areas. This is why development work in the merged tribal districts has made little progress; even the construction of police stations and courts has not been completed.
Meanwhile, terrorist attacks are occurring almost daily. The TTP has not only threatened more attacks but has also carried out many. This has sent a clear message to the political parties. It appears to be a repeat of the 2013 elections. It will be difficult for the ANP and the PPP to run election campaigns, just as it was then.
Given the context, the objections raised by the ANP and the PPP regarding provincial elections are not without a basis. By the looks of it, the PTI, too, is not too interested in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections. PTI chief Imran Khan realises that he can become the prime minister only through elections in the Punjab. Ever since the PTI dissolved the assembly in the province, Imran Khan and the rest of the central leadership have not visited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the by-elections, Imran Khan won all the seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and retained the Kurram district seat. He has yet to indicate whether he wishes to join the National Assembly proceedings or not. Moreover, if he contests another by-election this seat, too, shall fall vacant.
The PTI has brought the province’s economy, police, health, and education to the brink of disaster through populist decisions. On the other hand, these decisions have allowed it to maintain a favourable public image. This is why former chief ministers Parvez Khattak and Mehmood Khan have been silent on the affairs of the province. Former federal ministers Shehryar Afridi, Ali Amin Gandapur and Murad Saeed, as well as National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser are also missing from the public scene. Provincial ministers like Atif Khan and Shahram Khan Turkai are also absent from the public arena. Former provincial minister Taimur Jhagra, once considered the de facto chief minister, is seen on social media. Several allegations of corruption have recently been made against him.
The failure of the Jail Bharo movement in the KP shows that the ground reality is different from what some people take for granted. Perhaps this is why the Awami National Party has been demanding accountability before elections.
The governor is apparently of the opinion that due to the security situation and economic issues, the province needs more time before elections can be held smoothly. The situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is different from the Punjab. It appears likely that elections in the province will not be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the provincial assembly.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer