by Zia Ur Rehman

November 22, 2013

The five month long coalition between Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) in Khyber Pakhunkhwa province has fallen apart.

The PTI had emerged as the largest political party in the province in the general elections in May, and formed a provincial government with three coalition partners – the QWP, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Swabi’s Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP).

The coalition broke down last week over allegations made by the PTI that two QWP ministers were involved in corruption. After a strong advisory sent by PTI chief Imran Khan on November 13, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Pervez Khattak sacked two ministers – Bakht Baidar and Ibrar Hussain Tanoli, both belonging to the QWP – over charges of corruption and poor performance.

The party was warned twice over the allegations, Khan said in a statement.

The QWP boycotted provincial cabinet meetings in response. Then, its provincial president and senior minister Sikandar Sherpao announced the party was parting ways with the PTI. He said the Tehrik-e-Insaf had made the allegations to divert attention from their failure to deliver.

“There is a difference between organizing a public rally and running a government”

PTI leaders say the sacking of the two ministers had been widely hailed by the public, and the move may help the party significantly in the upcoming local elections. “There is an agreement within the party that the ministers and advisers who are engaged in corruption should be relieved of their responsibilities,” said Abdul Quayyum Kundi, a senior PTI leader.

But analysts say the rift may have nothing to do with corruption. “The PTI and the JI are coming closer on a number of issues and the QWP does not fit in,” said Ijaz Khan, a political analyst who teaches at Peshawar University.

One leader of the QWP said his party did not agree with its coalition partners on what he called a policy to appease the Taliban, the decision to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan passing through the province, and removing content about Pashtun leaders Bacha Khan and Ghani Khan from school textbooks.

The Sherpao faction of the Pakistan People Party formally renamed itself Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) in October 2012, after several leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) and various leftist and civil society groups joined them. They began Pashtun nationalist politics with a new flag and a new manifesto.

Media reports citing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders say Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in their recent meeting to appoint QWP chief Aftab Sherpao the governor of Khyber Pakhunkhwa.

The departure of the QWP’s 10 MPAs from the treasury benches will increase the strength of the opposition and would make the PTI government more vulnerable, analysts say. Tehrik-e-Insaaf has 53 seats in the provincial assembly, while its coalition partners the JI and the AJIP have eight and five seats respectively. Two independent candidates are also supporting the coalition. This takes the ruling alliance’s combined strength to 68 in a house of 124 MPAs.

Ijaz Khan said the PTI might want to get overthrown deliberately, prompted by the consideration that it has been unable to deliver in the province, which it had initially thought could be made a showcase for its performance. “It wants to go down with a populist cause.”

Senator Zahid Khan, ANP’s central information secretary, also believes Imran Khan is trying to become a “political martyr”. “Initially there were reports that the PTI is going to sack 11 ‘corrupt ministers’,” he said, but Imran Khan chose to take action only against the ministers belonging to the QWP.

Lehaz Ali, a Peshawar-based journalist, said Imran Khan had promised during the general elections to solve the problems of the people of the province in 90 days. “The PTI leadership has realized that there is a major difference between organizing a public rally and running the government.”

PML-N’s central vice president Engineer Amir Muqam said his party would continue to be in opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but will not help anyone destabilize the provincial government.

“After the separation of the QWP, even a little turbulence can result in the collapse of the coalition, but the PML-N does not want to become part of such un-democratic moves,” he said.

Reports in local media say the Pakistan People’s Party may join the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Former labor minister Sher Azam Wazir is speaking to PTI leaders, observers say, and his son Fakhar Azam, a PPP MPA from Bannu, organized a protest demonstration against drone attacks and NATO supplies in his hometown.

The author is a journalist and a researcher
Twitter: @zalmayzia