Despite claims by Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) that its chairman Imran Khan has defused a month-long internal crisis in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some leaders say the party is still in trouble.
A spate of bickering among provincial leaders of PTI began over a recent reshuffle in the cabinet. Most members were unhappy that some MPAs who had joined the PTI after being elected as independent candidates had been made ministers. The situation worsened when 14 PTI legislators formed a ‘like-minded group’ or ‘forward bloc’ and handed their resignation to Deputy Speaker Imtiaz Shahid.
The dissenting lawmakers refused to meet Chief Minister Parvez Khattak and wanted to speak directly to Imran Khan. They met Khan at his house, where he assured them he would address their reservations. He formed a two-member committee headed by Asad Umar to probe the complaints.
Sources in the ‘like-minded’ group said they wanted to pressure Khattak with their meeting with the chairman, but Khan gave a loud and clear warning he would dissolve the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and call for new elections.
According to a member of forward bloc, Khan asked the disgruntled lawmakers to submit their resignations to the speaker instead of the deputy speaker. The party would accept their resignations and participate in by-elections on their seats.
But Ziaullah Bangash, a PTI lawmaker from Kohat, said the bloc had not been formed for leverage to get privileges or ministries. “Soon after the PTI won the general elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last year, some members began to feel that the government is not on the right track,” Bangash said. “We, the ideological workers of PTI, had been asking Khattak and the party’s central leadership to improve their governance for the last six months, but no one bothered to listen us.” He said that health and education were key priorities in PTI’s manifesto, but in the recent reshuffle, the party had given the health ministry to coalition partner Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP). Jamaat-e-Islami, which was also a contender for the health ministry, is also unhappy with recent reshuffle.
PTI insiders said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa speaker and former provincial president of the party Asad Qaiser was also unhappy with the move. The AJIP was founded by the entrepreneur family of Liaquat Khan Tarakai that won one national and three provincial seats from Qaiser’s home district of Swabi.
[quote]Khan asked the disgruntled lawmakers to resign[/quote]
“The PTI leadership is strengthening the Tarakai family in Swabi’s politics and that will cause problems for Qaiser in the upcoming local elections,” said a supporter of Qaiser in the Shah Mansoor area of Swabi.
Shaukat Yousafzai, the former health minister, did not want to give up his portfolio. Some party insiders say he paid the price for not complying with an order by an influential PTI politician from Punjab. Yousafzai has not publicly made such an allegation, but insiders say he is supporting the forward bloc.
A Peshawar-based journalist who is aware of the party’s affairs said that since June last year, party members had not been happy with the allocation of ministries. “At that time, Khattak quickly inducted a number of advisors, special assistants and parliamentary secretaries, and chairmen of district development advisory committees to make all the members happy,” he said.
Veteran PTI workers are also unhappy with the party’s performance in government. “Forward blocs will keep forming if no principles are adopted in allocating ministries and responsibilities,” said a founder member of PTI. “If nepotism and favoritism are the rules of the game, then it is fair practice for everyone to seek personal advantage through pressure tactics.”
The infighting has emboldened the opposition parties, especially Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Awami National Party (ANP) do not want to destabilize the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Observers say the PML-N is not willing to topple the KP government and rule the violence-hit province, because that would create a sympathy for the PTI.
PML-N’s central vice-president Amir Muqam said his party had accepted PTI’s mandate and would let them rule the province. “It is PTI’s own lawmakers who are criticizing their government for its poor performance,” he said.
Aftab Sherpao said the party had lost its reputation. “It is the first provincial government ever to face such strong internal rifts within its first year in office.”
The writer is a journalist and researcher.
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