In KP, six years for PTI – and one for Mahmood Khan

Mahmood Khan has had to please many in his one year as chief minister.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has completed the first year of its second tenure in office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Their rule in the province is in its seventh year now, which is a distinction given that KP historically never elects the same party for a second successive time.

In contrast to the Pervez Khattak-led shaky coalition, which lived fearfully with a razor-thin majority, the PTI is the single largest party in the provincial assembly today. It enjoys a two-thirds majority in the house, which is unique since all post-2000 elections have resulted in coalition governments in KP.

Yet, the party’s rule is not without its challenges. In fact, KP’s complex issues will take more than numbers in the parliament to solve. Despite ruling the province for five consecutive years and leaving behind a blueprint for governance, Mahmood Khan’s plate was full when he took over as chief minister.

He faced challenges from his own cabinet members who eyed his seat, while his relative inexperience as administrator made it difficult for him to run the affairs of the province smoothly. Insiders told me that during the government’s initial days, they were at loss as to who was calling the shots.

Under Pervez Khattak, groupings inside the party were not so strong. Khattak was a shrewd politician, having learnt his tricks under the tutelage of Aftab Sherpao. Despite the thin majority, he enjoyed full control. In contrast, the meek Mahmood Khan had to please many: from those in Peshawar, to the Prime Minister’s Office, to the internal coterie of Imran Khan.

But after being in office for one year, Mahmood Khan has proved to be a quick learner. He has managed to understand the workings of the bureaucracy and how to lead it. It has been a remarkable transformation.

One party official told me that “he comes to meetings well prepared, takes notes, keeps tabs on what transpired in the previous one and has made the meetings meaningful.” At the same time, his softer side and how he deals with everyone respectfully has endeared him to the bureaucracy, which wasn’t the case with Pervez Khattak.

The party’s internal politics was not the only thing Mahmood Khan had to fret about. He had the gargantuan task of steering the integration of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas. At the beginning, there was a lack of direction on this issue, but considerable progress has now been made on the post-merger integration.

Some of the thorny issues, like the merger of tribal security forces and levies into the police, have been accomplished to a large extent. Almost all the administrative departments have extended their services to the region, while in its previous meeting, the provincial cabinet disbanded the FATA Development Authority and transferred its responsibilities to KP.

Economic integration has also taken some baby steps with the inclusion of the merged districts in the latest provincial budget. Last Tuesday, the recently elected lawmakers from the merged districts also took oath as members of the KP assembly following the July 20th elections.

The KP government still has to deal with the fiasco that’s the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The project has turned into a huge embarrassment for Imran Khan, who led a relentless campaign against similar projects in Punjab and Islamabad in his opposition years.

The BRT was so badly planned, executed and managed that it stopped being news since so much had been written about it. One cannot blame Mahmood Khan for the mess as the fault lies with Pervez Khattak. However, what makes the present government guilty is the complete lack of interest in finishing the project. Despite everything, Khattak did push to see the project through. Under his watch, there would be two meetings every month to review the progress, but this has stopped under the new chief minister.

Soon after taking over, Mahmood Khan’s government replaced the KP Local Government Act, 2013 with a rather diluted version wherein the provincial government abolished the district tier. Now, there are only two tiers of tehsil, village and neighbourhood councils.

Critics see it as the handiwork of the Pakistan Administrative Service to keep their tight grip on power. They argue that after abolishing the mayor’s post, the bureaucracy would be able to run the districts the way they want without any opposition. Tehsil, village and neighbourhood councils will have to look towards the omnipotent deputy commissioner.

The centre-province relations that throughout the Pervez Khattak tenure remained at their lowest, have improved considerably due to the large number of KP politicians being made members of the federal cabinet. However, the provincial and federal governments recently sparred over the provision of net hydel profit proceeds under the AGN Kazi formula. Both sides exchanged dissenting letters and the issue seems to be far from over.

In the health sector, insiders say that Mahmood Khan’s administration is toothless. Dr Nausherwan Burki, a close relative of Imran Khan, is said to be the person who actually runs the show. Recently, a bill seeking to establish authorities at district and regional levels across the province for managing hospitals and health facilities was met with strong opposition from doctors as they went on strike for two weeks.

Ironically, after the PTI regularised the services of hundreds of contract employees in all sectors during its previous term, the bill prevents the appointments of doctors on a regular basis through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Public Service Commision.

In the energy and power sector, the PC-1 for the 300 megawatts Balakot-1 Hydro Power was approved under Pervez Khattak. The Asian Development Bank is financing the project and it would be its first such project in the province. Similarly under Mahmood Khan, the power purchase agreement for the already operational hydropower stations – Darral Khwar, Machay and Pehur – materialised this year.

The Rashakai Special Economic Zone, a China–Pakistan Economic Corridor flagship project stretching over 1,000 acres at Nowshera on the Motorway M-1, also got on track thanks to the present government.

The PTI had been in power in KP already, and is now even stronger. This affords it the opportunity to implement its policies in ways that it cannot elsewhere. One can expect the party to continue on its current trajectory for the rest of its tenure.


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