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Although the sudden surge in PTI’s popularity has heated up the political climate in KP, it would be premature to say how PTI would perform in the coming elections. It is clear it will pose a significant challenge for KP’s traditional political parties

By Zia Ur Rehman

November 04-10, 2011

Iftikhar Ahmed Jhagra, a former provincial minister, has joined Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on October 28, abandoning his long affiliation with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). “The Imran Khan-led PTI is the only party that can bring peace and prosperity in the country and especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said Jhagra, an influential political figure who has been elected to the provincial assembly thrice. “Lahore’s successful public moot is a vivid evidence of that.”

Like Jhagra, several significant politicians of KP have recently joined PTI, indicating that the cricketer-turned-politician is focusing particularly on the province and the adjacent tribal areas for the next general elections. Imran claims that his party has enrolled over one million members in KP.

“We are looking for honest politicians. The people of the province are expecting change from PTI and this change is only possible if we get rid of present corrupt and opportunist political leadership,” said Asad Qaiser, provincial president of PTI. He said several prominent politicians from various political parties, especially the PPP and the ANP, have recently joined the PTI, chiefly because of Imran’s stance on military operations against the Taliban and US drone attacks.

Other key political figures who joined or are likely to join PTI include: Khwaja Muhammad Hoti, an ANP dissident MNA from Mardan, Yaseen Khalil, a former PPP town nazim from Peshawar, Israrullah Gandapur, a MPA of PPP-Sherpao from Dera Ismail Khan, Shujaat Ali Khan, a former KP minister from Swat, Qurban Ali Khan, a former MPA from Nowsehra, Ahmed Habib Kundi, son of former KP minister Habibullah Kundi from Tank, Rustam Shah Momand, former Pakistani ambassador in Afghanistan, and relatives of former interior minister Late Nasirullah Babar, he said.

PTI leaders are very optimistic about the future of the party in KP and FATA. “We are commanding good support from KP voters while in FATA, the situation is even better,” said Abdul Qayyum Kundi, a PTI leader in Dera Ismail Khan.

The recent presidential order to allow political activities in FATA is an opportunity for the PTI, Kundi said, adding that his party’s opposition to military operations and drone attacks in tribal areas and its plan to negotiate with the Taliban were the reasons for its popularity.

But on the other hand, the entry of ‘turncoats’ has disappointed workers and leaders of PTI. They fear that the induction of ‘opportunist politicians’ would dent the popularity of the party among the masses, especially the youth, who are struggling honestly and sincerely for a change. “Politicians known for changing loyalties and big landlords have joined the party or are lobbying to join it and get a ticket for the coming elections,” said a PTI worker from Mardan. “That is causing frustration among party workers.”

Political analysts say that despite growing support, the party is still politically immature and has weak organisation in the province, and that will affect its election campaign. The ANP, the PPP, the Jamiat-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) – the traditional political parties in KP – have strong ideological bases and organisational setup, while the PTI is still on its way to being established, says Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based political analyst.

Former KP governor Owais Ghani, KP Higher education minister Qazi Asad, former PTI provincial president and former finance minister Nawabzada Mohsin Ali Khan and former vice-chancellor of Swat Islamic University (late) Dr Farooq were some prominent figures in PTI, but they had abandoned the party after developing differences with its chairman Imran Khan. “The PTI is a one-man party where Imran decides everything without consulting party members, and that is the main reason behind the weak organisational setup of the party,” said a former PTI leader in Swat, who has now joined the ANP.

Some political observers believe that because the leadership of ANP, PPP and even JUI-F are cut off from the people because of security fears, and that is sending the voters away towards the PTI. “Pashtun people always wanted a courageous leader, and they now see Imran as bold and fearless. He is easier access because of softer views on Talibanisation,” says Yousafzai.

Sources in the PTI disclosed that the party had decided to field Imran as a candidate from one or more constituencies of KP because of the enthusiastic response from people of the province. “The party is considering fielding Imran against JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in Dera Ismail Khan’s NA-24 and ANP president Asfandyar Wali in Charsadda’s NA-7 constituencies,” a PTI leader said.

Political observers also say PTI’s future in KP depends on the understanding between the ANP and PPP in the province. PTI is likely to make an alliance with JI and PPP-Sherpao at provincial level. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is limited to Hazara division.

Other observers believe “the phony popularity of PTI in the Pashtun belt” is a conspiracy. “The media is creating a pro-Imran hype in KP intentionally, and turncoat politicians are joining PTI,” says Idrees Kamal, a leader of Aman Tehrik, a provincial civil-society alliance. “The ground realities are different. PTI is a pro-establishment party and anti-democratic forces are using them as a pressure group to counter PML-N, ANP and progressive forces.”

It is pertinent to mention here that Imran is known as ‘Talib Khan’ among nationalist politicians of the province because he is seen to lean towards militant groups. “Imran advocated dialogue with those (Taliban) who breached the peace truce and started brutally killing people, including women and children, attacking the security forces, destroying schools and even flogging women,” said an ANP provincial minister. “That brings his political maturity into question.”

He said that Imran was exploiting the issue of US drone attacks in tribal areas to gain “cheap popularity” despite the fact that the attacks had killed a number of key Al Qaeda terrorists, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans – who had made the lives of tribal people miserable. “Why is he (Imran) silent over the daily slaughter of innocent tribal elders on false charges of spying for US?” he asks. The minister said PTI’s “childish fan-club” could not compete with KP’s mature politicians with ideological roots in the Pashtun culture.

Although the sudden surge in PTI’s popularity has heated up the political climate in KP, it would be premature to say how PTI would perform in the coming elections. It is clear it will pose a significant challenge for KP’s traditional political parties.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights. He can be contacted at