ISLAMABAD: The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chapter of the ruling PML-N is plagued by serious organisational problems, so much so that its provincial leadership is struggling to realign the party in a province regarded as a stronghold of its most formidable foe – the PTI.
In addition to internal rifts and groupings, the party also faces a tug-of-war among its top leaders who have been vying for key posts. Powerful groups led by Pir Sabir Shah, Amir Muqam, Sardar Mehtab and Iqbal Zafar Jhagra – are eyeing a lion’s share in the any future political arrangement in the province where the PML-N has long been planning to dent the PTI’s politics.
“Because of serious differences, the party has failed to conduct intra-party elections in K-P so far, despite holding the same at the centre and in Punjab,” informed party insiders told The Express Tribune.
The PML-N has a considerable presence in K-P, but the PTI’s rise during the 2018 general elections to form a provincial government has rung alarm bells in the ruling party.
Credible PML-N sources are of the view that the party’s central leadership led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has considered the option of holding intra-party elections in a bid to realign the party.
“The plan, however, has not been materialised due to serious divisions in powerful party circles in K-P.”
The prime minister has held several rounds of talks with provincial party leaders in a bid to iron out differences, but his efforts had failed, it is learnt.
“There are too many stakeholders, rather shareholders — and all of them want a maximum stake in the party’s setup in K-P,” commented a senior PML-N central leader who has a say in the party’s provincial affairs.
The slot of the K-P secretary-general has been lying vacant since March when Iqbal Zafar Jhagra quit the post to take oath as K-P’s governor following the resignation of Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi.
Pir Sabir Shah is the president of PML-N K-P chapter. However, his position in the party has largely been compromised, with divisional, regional, district, tehsil and union council-level local leaderships being directly controlled by other powerful lobbies, the sources said. “His has been reduced to a ceremonial role,” the insiders told The Express Tribune.
By and large, Sardar Mehtab is the figure whose elevation as president of the PML-N K-P chapter is acceptable to the party’s ranks. But he is not eligible to hold any political office for two years on technical grounds, starting February this year.
“Mehtab commands great respect in the party ranks, but he is constitutionally bound to not engage in political activities for two years,” a PML-N K-P leader said.
Given past differences between Sabir Shah and Sardar Mehtab, some PML-N quarters predict that the latter’s elevation to the party’s provincial presidency could brew problems for the party.
However, other party circles do not buy this observation, saying Shah’s lobby has weakened over the years, while Mehtab continues to call the shots from backstage.
Another K-P leader Amir Muqam is also rated as a strong contender to head the PML-N in K-P. However, his presence is also marked with serious opposition in the party ranks who regard him as an ‘outsider’.
“The majority of PML-N leaders in K-P comprise old party loyalists, who survived adverse political conditions during the Musharraf regime, but did not turn their backs on Mian Sahib when he was in exile.
“For these leaders, it is hard to accept Muqam as their president, and the party leadership is cognisant of the situation,” the sources said. The party insiders believe the prime minister has elevated Muqam to the rank of adviser in a bid to keep him away from politics owing to his controversial political background.
Muqam had denied that he was an aspirant for the post of party provincial head.
“Time and again, I have made it clear that I am not a contender for any party portfolio. If, however, party assigns me any position, I would be willing to accept that responsibility. But I have no ambitions — to lobby for any post. I am PM’s adviser and that’s enough for me,” he told The Express Tribune.
On intra-party elections, Muqam said the party would hold the polls in the near future. “It’s a phase-wise process. First, intra-party elections were held in the centre, then in Punjab. Now, they would be held in K-P, and then in other provinces, at an appropriate time, in the near future.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2016.