With eight months in office, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is struggling to control internal rifts in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet. These rifts among members of the KP cabinet have gained momentum and fissures have come out of cabinet meetings and spilled over onto the floor of the provincial assembly, and in press conferences.
Incidents that openly exposed rifts between Chief Minister Mahmood Khan’s group and Minister for Culture and Tourism Atif Khan’s group were statements made by KP Information Minister Shaukat Yousufzai and then Atif Khan’s reaction to Yousufai’s statement on the floor of the KP assembly.
In a statement on Thursday, April 25, Yousufzai hinted about a possible re-shuffle in the provincial cabinet within 8 to 10 days, based on the performance of cabinet members. He added that Chief Minister Mahmood Khan was monitoring performance of cabinet members and those with poor performance would be removed soon. A section of the media, while reporting the statement of the information minister, also gave names of a few members of the cabinet who could be removed. This triggered a debate and annoyed Minister for Tourism Atif Khan. His name was also reported in news items that listed names of cabinet members who were under consideration for the reshuffle.
The differences, however, date back to the previous tenure of the PTI, when Atif and the then chief minister Pervez Khattak were at loggerheads
In the assembly last Friday, Atif, while responding to opposition members’ criticism on Shaukat Yousufzai for cancelling a meeting of the parliamentary committee on the Billion Tree Tsunami project in the KP assembly, mocked Yousafzai by saying: “I think he was busy at the time giving statements regarding reshuffles in the cabinet which is why he could not accompany you.”
Later in the evening, the information minister, through a press conference, responded to queries and criticism on the Billion Tree Tsunami project and also clarified his statement regarding the possible reshuffle.
He accused the media for twisting his words regarding the reshuffle and added that he had never named any minister and had only talked about principles adopted by the party for checking performance of cabinet members. The information minister had to run rebuttals in the media regarding his earlier statements. In the end, the chief minister himself had to give a statement to the media refuting news regarding the reshuffle.
Seeing the rifts in the cabinet out in the open for the first time shows the lack of trust and teamwork in the government. The differences, however, date back to the previous tenure of the PTI, when Atif and the then chief minister Pervez Khattak were at loggerheads. Sources say that Khattak was opposing Atif in Mardan and was obstructing release of funds for development projects in Atif’s constituency. Khattak was feeling insecure because Atif was close to the party chief, Imran Khan. Sources also said that Atif Khan and Pervez Khattak had exchanged harsh words at Imran Khan’s residence in Bani Gala but they added that Pervez Khattak, being a shrewd politician, never let the differences come out in the open. He would settle his scores in the background.
Later, after the general elections, when the party again clinched a majority in the province and Khattak’s national assembly seat was desperately needed by Imran Khan to form government in the centre, the only powerful person left in the province for the chief minister’s slot was Atif Khan. Yet, Khattak was not ready to accept him as chief minister and eventually, Mahmood Khan from Swat got the chair and Atif Khan was left out again.
Sources say that Atif’s group, that includes Local Government Minister Shahram Khan and some others, avoid coming out openly to support him but they are not cooperating with Mahmood Khan either. The differences also surfaced in the first week of April when the chief minister removed Transport Secretary Kamran Khan and Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) Director General Israrul Haq over a report of the provincial inspection team on the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit Project spotting out design and engineering blunders in the execution of the project.
Shahram Khan, being the local government minister who also heads the PDA, reacted to the removal, saying the chief minister did not take him on board before removing the officer.
Sources also say that Atif and Shahram have taken up the matter with Prime Minister Imran Khan, but he told them that the chief minister had the authority to remove the DG. Furthermore, Shahram was abroad when the DG was removed. Sources also say that Imran Khan asked Atif and Shahram to support Mahmood Khan.
It is said that Atif Khan and his group, which enjoyed a powerful position in the previous term, has now lost some of his clout in the party due to differences and opposition from Pervez Khattak’s and Mahmood Khan’s groups. Mahmood Khan has lawmakers from Malakand division in his group.
Right now, it is said that Atif will be given the additional responsibility of the elementary and secondary education department for his experience in the previous tenure, along with the portfolio of tourism.
Khattak also managed to get a slot for his brother Liaquat Khan Khattak, who took oath as minister on Monday. Sources also say that Ali Ameen Gandapur and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser are also in the run for slots in the cabinet for their brothers but the government has to keep at least a couple of slots for representation of the merged tribal districts. It is also said that the reshuffle will now be delayed at least until the budget is announced and the result of elections on 16 seats of the provincial assembly from the newly merged districts are finalised.
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar