Is PTI walking the talk in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

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Inamullah Marwat

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — cutting through political binary matrix defined by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — through its dynamism and its mantra of change “Naya Pakistan” (new Pakistan) has reinvigorated political discourse in Pakistan. Its vision of Naya Pakistan, in 2013 elections, resonated with masses across Pakistan who were fed up of the already tested political parties for resolution of perennial issues faced by Pakistan. But it was Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that outstood among other provinces in Pakistan for breaking the political inertia by turning their backs on the parties in power and giving a chance to PTI to lay the foundation of Naya Pakistan through its performance in government.
A great deal of hope had been pinned on PTI for bringing change in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but now with PTI completing its third year in government, the big question is whether it has walked the talk that it promised in 2013 elections. The following arguments are in reference to zone four of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that in the past — because of its conservative milieu — had always stood by right wing parties like Jamiaat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), but had in the 2013 elections reposed trust in PTI. To what extent PTI has catered to this zone after three years in government, and what challenges the zone is particularly battling with constitute the gist of this write-up.
Out of the five zones of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, zone four comprises Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan (D I Khan), Karak, Kohat, Lakki Marwat and Tank. The zone is home to over six million inhabitants that constitute one-fourth of the overall population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, according to an unofficial estimate.
Traditionally, JUI-F has a stronghold over this zone, as people often vote on religious and feudal lines. Social status and religious background matter more than any political affiliation. But in 2013, this trend changed dramatically as people came out in huge numbers and voted for PTI. Nobody knew the PTI candidates, but majority of the ignorant masses were trying to locate the symbol of bat on ballot papers in polling stations on the Election Day. As predicted, PTI swept in five out of six districts as JUI-F was trounced on its home ground. But despite such a turnaround, no portfolio was awarded to the representatives of this region in the provincial government cabinet, as all major portfolios were confined to some specific districts including Nowshera, the home constituency of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak.
The zone is still struggling with old and new political choices. The space ceded by the right wing parties in 2013 is being reoccupied by right wing parties in the face of sheer indifference meted out to the zone by PTI government. This is what happened in the recently held local body elections in some of the districts of the zone. The point can be best illustrated through the case story of Bannu. After the local bodies elections in Bannu, independent candidates emerged successful, while PTI and JUI-F stood second and third respectively. After that, a tug-of-war ensued between the two parties to bag support of independent candidates. It took almost one and a half year to resolve the issue, and JUI-F finally succeeded in forming local government in Bannu. Instead of thinking in a broader perspective for the development of the region, PTI, through courtesy of being in power, has withheld all funds to the JUI-F local representatives in order to make it a failed local government. Because of this, many development projects are pending in Bannu.
As public spending is confined to some specific regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this neglected zone confronts the following problems.
With respect to education, this is one of the most backward regions in Pakistan. While PTI boasts of reforms in education sector across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this zone has so far not witnessed any such reform. Government’s mass enrollment drive appears to be confined to Peshawar and its peripheries. Female literacy rate is at its lowest as there is not a single women university in this zone. On the contrary, there are five to six women universities in Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi and Dir.
Moreover, because of close proximity with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and the inclusion of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) into the zone after the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the problems of the zone have increased. This zone deserved special focus as almost 90 percent of IDPs reside in the zone. Displaced people from South Waziristan Agency are residing in Tank and D I Khan, while people of North Waziristan have taken refuge in Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Karak, which has strained the health and education sectors of the zone. Over one million people from North Waziristan have become a burden on this zone because of sheer indifference of the provincial government. While the locals embraced IDPs as their guests, neither the central government nor the provincial government paid any special attention to this zone in the context of IDPs.
There is no denying the fact that PTI has turned out to be a messiah for politically wretched masses of Pakistan through a springboard provided by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. PTI’s crusade against corruption and many other reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa need no recommendation, but PTI’s sheer obsession with coming in power across Pakistan overnight, and its asymmetric policies vis-à-vis Khyber Pakhtunkhwa might rob it of its electoral base in the 2018 general elections. Before the wretched of the province, especially of zone four, lose their reposed trust in PTI for change, and turn towards right wing parties again for deciding their political fortune, PTI needs to cater to its disgruntled electorate through inclusive reforms across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.