Imran’s ‘war on three fronts’

Imran Khan is still surrounded by intrigue.—Online/ File

ISLAMABAD: Despite winning his battle with the government over the formation of a judicial commission to investigate alleged rigging in the 2013 elections and securing some vindication following Khawaja Saad Rafique’s de-seating by an election tribunal, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is still surrounded by intrigue, which some party insiders have dubbed a “[civil] war on three fronts”.

In background discussions over recent weeks, senior party leaders have shown concerns about their future. “The party is imploding with differences at all levels which warrant serious corrective measures, from top to bottom,” a senior party leader told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

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According to him, the party lacks political maturity, causing most disgruntled leaders to go public with their grievances, which ultimately hurts Mr Khan’s credibility as party chief.

KP concerns

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), currently ruled by a PTI government, is witnessing potentially ruinous strife within various factions. According to provincial leaders, an “unfair distribution” of tickets for the upcoming local government elections was the main bone of contention among these groups. Tensions came to a head earlier this month when Khalid Masood, the general secretary of the party’s chapter, resigned.

Talking to Dawn, a PTI minister from the KP cabinet told Dawn, “This trend of nominating rather than electing leaders to various party offices, both at the national and provincial level, is taking a heavy toll on the party.”

Mr Khan himself continues to face demonstrations, both at his residence in Bani Gala as well as outside the party’s central office in Islamabad. The protesters accuse the party’s KP leadership of ignoring grassroots workers in the distribution of tickets.

According to the minister, Azam Swati — who is president of the party’s provincial chapter and is running the show in the province — was hurting the party’s interests with his pick-and-choose policy with regards to awarding tickets for the local government elections.

Both Mr Swati and Mr Masood were nominated — and not elected — to their respective offices by the party leadership.

In an off-the-record comment, another senior PTI leader from KP said that if the party continued to be run the way it was, “I will not be surprised if it returns miserable results, just like in the recent elections to cantonment boards.”

Had Mr Swati come through the intra-party elections, he would be familiar with the party’s leadership at the grassroots level, he said.

Mr Swati was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.

Strife at centre

Things are not much different at the centre. The powerful general secretary, Jahangir Tareen, is not liked by many within the PTI because of his close relationship with the chairman. He was also appointed by Mr Khan after the elected general secretary, Pervez Khattak, was appointed chief minister of KP.

“A constant, vicious turf war is raging under Mr Khan’s nose, which, for reasons best known to him, he is conveniently ignoring. Besides Mr Tareen, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Additional General Secretary Saifullah Niazi also have their own groups within the party who are loyal to them,” a PTI member of the National Assembly told Dawn.

The recent hiring and firing of old party hand Umar Cheema as the spokesperson for the PTI chairman, which unfolded in a matter of days, was also the result of this ongoing internal struggle, the lawmaker added.

Punjab problems

The situation in the country’s largest province is also precarious. Party president Ejaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Mehmoodur Rasheed, who is the leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly, have both set their sights on the top prize — the chief ministership of Punjab. Insiders say both are nurturing their own supporters, preparing for the day the party sweeps the elections in the province and they have a shot at the top slot.

Abdul Aleem Khan, the head of the party’s Lahore chapter, also aspires to lead the party in Punjab.

Accepting that there was friction within the party, Mr Tareen told Dawn the leadership was aware of these problems and had already set remedial measures in motion.

“Yes, the problem exists and requires national-level solutions. The party leadership is busy working out a plan to minimise the impact of these intra-party issues.”

However, in Mr Tareen’s view, because of its youth and democratic culture “unlike other traditional political parties, [the PTI] has more intense intraparty discussions, which end up being reported in the media too.”

Accepting the recommendations of a party election tribunal headed by former Justice Wajihuddin Ahmad, Mr Khan had already announced fresh intra-party elections.

However, Justice Ahmad also recommended the replacement of all existing party office-bearers with caretakers until the next elections. Even though the PTI chairman has sought some time, Justice Ahmad has repeatedly expressed his displeasure over the lack of implementation on his recommendations. However, that issue seems to have been resolved now.

PTI Election Commissioner Tasneem Noorani has been given the task of conducting the next internal elections when he deems suitable. “We hope that with fresh intraparty elections, the PTI will get rid of all those who are unduly running party affairs,” the KP cabinet member remarked.

But there are others who think otherwise. “I think Mr Khan deliberately allows the second and third-tier leadership to squabble amongst each other to keep them in line. If this were not the case, he would have taken some action to address these concerns by now,” a party insider quipped.

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