Pakistan polls: Imran Khan's poll rhetorics may help PTI gain new ground, but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, second chance is unlikely

Peshawar: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaf (PTI) is now the second most popular political party of Pakistan. Ahead of general elections, the former Pakistani cricketer is putting all efforts to convince the voters of Pakistan to elect him and his party to the National Assembly. In his mid-60’s, Khan travels a lot and holds more than one rally on a daily basis. Khan is as popular today as he was during the election campaign of 2013; back then political Pundits in the country were considering PTI as the ruling party. However, voters in the largest populated province Punjab, as well as Sindh and Balochistan, rejected Khan's charismatic personality.

It was only in Pakistan's northern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) bordering Afghanistan that Khan’s PTI was in a position to form a government, and it did so in alliance with religious party Jamaat-e-Islami. The government was a mixture of liberal, modern and religiously conservative minds.

 Pakistan polls: Imran Khans poll rhetorics may help PTI gain new ground, but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, second chance is unlikely

Imran Khan addressing a rally in Pakistan. AP

PTI came to power in 2013 with promises for youth and women rights and the empowerment of the deprived segments of the Pashtun society through more employment opportunities. In the run-up to the 2018 election, Khan has once again promised to create employment opportunities for the jobless — the biggest challenge for policymakers in the province. But Pashtun's don't seem to be buying it.

Looking back in anger

In the last five years, since Khan's PTI formed the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the party stalwarts have failed to resolve the issues of the residents of this war-hit region. Contrary to the Khan's tall claims of making Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a welfare state, the PTI chief spent most of his time in Islamabad trying to topple the elected federal government led by Pakistan Mulsim League - Nawaz. And while he was camping in the national capital, his party members were enjoying the perks and privileges of being members of the national and provincial assemblies.

In 2014, Khan had asked his young male and female supporters for a sit-in against the Nawaz Sharif government because of a baseless allegation of corruption. For 120 days, PTI workers paralysed Islamabad. They attacked the Pakistan Television building and also manhandled police officers. Khan even announced civil disobedience movement from the stage. This was the time when Khan should have in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa delivering on his promises in order to present his achievements in the province as a model for the rest of Pakistan, but instead, he wasted it in derailing the democratic system of the country.

During the sit-in, Khan had famously said, “Third umpire is going to raise the finger.” The political parties had then claimed that Khan was referring to the establishment. Imran Khan is cherished by the establishment, and it is said that the establishment wants to spoil Khan’s energy and zeal in non-democratic issues.

Somehow the establishment succeeded in its game and the strong democratic government weakened with the help of Khan and a religious scholar Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri — both arranged long dramatised sit-ins in different parts of the capital.

The youth consists of more than 56 percent of Pakistan's population. The establishment's propaganda was strong. And the Pakistani youth got trapped in the rootless word “change”. The superficial approach and zero critical thinking of the Pakistani education system made molding the youth's opinion easier with few attractive sentences. It's no surprise that a big chunk of youth votes are still following the once charming fast bowler.

Poll rhetoric vs truth

PTI had previously promised to award 33 percent party tickets to the youth and thus bring new faces with new ideas to the Parliament. A vocal critic of dynastic and electable politics, Khan often slammed his opponents of playing "lota siyasat", a Pakistani political terminology referring to the politics of ideology-less leaders who change party loyalty every five years.

For the upcoming election, Khan has already violated his own rules and awarded party tickets to electable, feudal and dynastic figures (lota politicians). Thus, the merit for the ticket appears to be money and influence and not "new idea" and "new face" as he promised. On 25 July, on ballot day, PTI will represent the old and aged traditional politicians rather than the youth and the educated it promised.

Flags of political parties in fray in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. AP

Flags of political parties in fray in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. AP

Some of the names which have already been released so far include Mir Balakh Sher Mazari, 90, Nasrullah Dreshak, 80, Zulfiqar Khosa, 84, Jaffar Khan Leghari, 78, and Ghulam Mustafa Khar, 83. There is a long list of over 60-year-old candidates in the country.

Khan's anti-corruption image vs reality

Throughout the 2013 election campaign, and now in the run-up to the 2018 general election, Khan promised change and a corruption-free Pakistan. He called ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif corrupt and also criticised the PML-N's developmental projects like the Metro Bus service to solve the traffic problem in bigger cities like Lahore. Khan has always been a harsh critic of infrastructural projects and claims that Pakistan should focus on building educational institutions because societies need intellectual growth.

Khan and his right-hand man Asad Umar had once told the National Assembly that they could build the Metro Bus scheme on three times lesser budget. But Khan took a U-turn and initiated a bigger Peshawar Metro Bus / Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with an initial budget of Rs 49 billion in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Since its launch, the BRT projects cost has been revised first to Rs 67.9 billion, and now expected to touch Rs 100 billion while the deadline has already been extended twice and both have been missed.

PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addresses his supporters in Peshawar. AP

PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addresses his supporters in Peshawar. AP

The mega BRT project has now come under suspicion with the Peshawar High Court on Thursday referring the National Accountability Bureau, Peshawar, to investigate irregularities in the project.

"The delay, the contract awarding process, feasibility and all other issues relating to the Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Project are all shady and shaky," the court said.

The court has also asked the NAB to see whether funds from other projects of public importance were transferred to BRT as well as the allegations that the company which received the contract for the BRT was blacklisted by the Lahore High Court.

“Actually, Imran Khan couldn’t deliver anything to the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the writing on the wall is apparent,” Faizullah Jan, chairman Journalism department, University of Peshawar says.

"Dumping his own principles, Khan initiated BRT on foreign loans even though the project was not feasible for a small city like Peshawar," adds Jan.

Pakistan General Election 2018

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is now under a huge debt of over $300 billion. Besides BRT, already several projects of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government are under observation with the NAB ordered to investigate irregularities in education, health, local government and in few other ministries.

Besides, the BRT, PTI governments second mega-project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, The Billion Tree Tsunami, is accused of exploiting international funding. The NAB is currently investigating financial irregularities in the project, which is expected to cost Rs 18 billion and will complete in 2020.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Khan and the PTI are in the people's court once again after five years and is making tall claims of a better and educated future.

The alternative

A possible alternative for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the Awami National Party, which was defeated by the PTI in 2013. The leftist, progressive party founded by Pashtun leader Abdul Wali Khan, son of Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan), has always been under attack by militants. In  2013, the Pakistan Tehrik Taliban (TTP) targeted ANP because of its policies of opposing militants ideology, in which, more than 850 workers including top leadership were killed.

During the previous election, the Bacha Khan’s flag bearers were house arrested while Khan was busy campaigning. ANP has consistently taken a categorical stand against terrorism while PTI has left no stone unturned in appeasing the terrorists. In fact, the Imran-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa govt gave over Rs 300 million to Madrassa Haqqania. The religious seminary is famous for producing hardline religious leaders and its alumni have a strong connection with Afghan Taliban.

Asfandyar Wali Khan, center, head of Awami National Party addresses to his supporters during an election campaign. AP

Asfandyar Wali Khan, center, head of Awami National Party addresses to his supporters during an election campaign. AP

"Imran's political career isn’t impressive. He appears to have been hobnobbing with retired or current intelligence chiefs like General Hameed Gul, Gen Shuja Pasha and Gen Zaheer," outpsoken ANP leader, Senator Afrasiab Khattak said.

Imran's fondness for power is not new. In fact, Pakistan's on-exile military dictator Pervez Musharraf has revealed that Khan asked for 100 National Assembly seats in the General Elections of 2002 while the dictator was ready to give him only 10. Historically, he becomes relevant when the establishment wants to use him against the elected government, he stated.

Khattak seems to be convinced that Imran is playing a scripted role.

"On 15 July, Imran held two public rallies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Mardan and Swabi districts, but the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was asked to cancel its rally in Malakand due to threats. Not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, even in Punjab, the PML-N is facing hurdles on their path from witch hunts by security agencies — from the so-called accountability court to in the name of terrorist attacks," Khattak said.

On Saturday, former Pakistan Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani echoed the same sentiment during a Senate session. “Did the ECP (summon) details of contestants (belonging to) banned outfits? Did it ask for records of those candidates who have cases registered against them? Under which section of the law and Constitution are (these individuals from banned outfits) being allowed to contest the elections,” Rabbani asked, holding the Election Commission of Pakistan answerable.

Iftikhar Durrani, head of PTI's media department, however, downplays the allegations including failing to fulfill its poll promises in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. "We have delivered and the voters are with Imran Khan’s vision of corruption free Pakistan," Durrani says, adding, "He says, "All the parties are united against the educated, transparent and true patriot Imran Khan because they know their defeat is written on the wall." Durrani also welcomed NAB investigation in all developmental projects that the PTI has initiated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Jan, however, believes, that the establishment may not be successful in its plan, especially since the political awareness in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is very high. "The Khudai Khidmatgar movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was social in nature but it created a lot of political awareness under Bacha Khan's leadership in the Pashtun belt. Bacha Khan's legacy and vision could be seen in every corner of the Pashtun belt, they have rejected feudal and establishment puppets every time in this part of the country,” Jan believed.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the local Pashtuns hardly give a second chance to a party. In fact, if a ruling party doesn't deliver in the province, the Pashtuns rise together with the message: “Pashtuns teach them a lesson”.

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Updated Date: Jul 22, 2018 10:10:10 IST