With his huge rally at Minar-e-Pakistan, Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf have become a political reality, posing a challenge to well-established, traditional political parties. Why did people turn out to listen to Imran Khan in such large numbers? The main reason is that the ruling parties, both at the federal and provincial level, have disappointed the average Pakistani with their non-performance. Times have changed and now with a vibrant media, mere slogans, rhetoric, and sacrifices are not likely to work. A large number of people, especially from the urban middle class, consider Imran to be the leader who can bring change. Besides Punjab, Imran is focusing on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for the next elections. Some known politicians have already joined him; many more are waiting on the fence. It is too early to make any prediction about the next elections as the main political parties have not yet started their election campaign, but right now Imran is the only leader being talked about in certain parts of KP.
KP has 35 National Assembly (NA) and 99 Provincial Assembly (PA) general seats. Politically, KP can roughly be divided into four areas: Malakand Division, Peshawar Valley, southern KP and Hazara. Religious parties have a traditional vote bank in Malakand Division, followed by the ANP and the PPP. Imran, in the past, got a considerable number of votes from a constituency in Swat. The people of Malakand Division have suffered the most by Taliban atrocities. Voting for Imran is likely to depend on how the people perceive his policy on terrorism. He has more chances of winning some seats if he is in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Peshawar Valley comprises districts of Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera, Charsada and Peshawar, having 13 NA and 36 PA seats. People from this area are independent voters. There is no biradari, tribal or qaum system in the area. Generally, people are nationalists and they have been voting for the ANP and the PPP. In 2002, in spite of the fact that the ANP and the PPP had an alliance, the MMA swept the elections from this area by winning 12 NA seats out of 13. People voted for the MMA not for religious reasons, but because they expected that the religious leaders would bring some positive change in their lives. Once the MMA failed to deliver, people rejected religious parties in the 2008 elections and again voted for the ANP and the PPP. The Peshawar Valley is the only area in the country where Imran has the brightest chances of winning a sizeable number of seats, provided he comes up with a practical and appealing economic agenda.
Individuals, families and religious parties generally dominate the political landscape of southern KP. The Tehreek-e-Insaf can win some seats from this area, provided the party fields winnable candidates. Hazara has traditionally been pro-establishment and the Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif is the most popular leader in the area. However, the renaming of NWFP as KP has not gone well with a large number of Hazarewal. Again, Imran has to look for winnable candidates with resources as the biradari and qaum system have strong roots in Hazara politics.
In all probability, with the team he has, Imran is not in a position to bring any positive change in the governance system of Pakistan. The patwari is not the problem of most of the 180 million Pakistanis, as a majority of them are not landowners and have never come across one. Solutions to their problems, like poverty alleviation, unemployment, merit, sifarish, price hikes, justice, soft policing and the economy have never been addressed by Imran. Once he is in power, if ever, he will realise that corruption is not the main problem of this country; there are many other complex issues related to the economy. He may also realise at some stage that terrorists have an agenda, they are not going to surrender on the withdrawal of US forces and terrorism cannot be eradicated within 90 days through negotiations. In the prevailing political environment, KP appears to be the province where Imran Khan has a chance to win a considerable number of seats.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2011.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly mentioned 18 million Pakistanis. This is incorrect. The error is regretted.
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