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

Mahmood Khan has had to please many in his first year as prime minister.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has completed the first year of his second term in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). His government in the province is now in its seventh year, which is a distinction given that KP historically never elects the same party for the second time in a row.

Unlike the unstable coalition led by Pervez Khattak, who lived fearfully with a large majority, the PTI is the largest party in today's provincial assembly. It enjoys a two-thirds majority in the House, which is unique since all the elections after 2000 have resulted in coalition governments in KP.

However, the party rule is not without challenges. In fact, complex KP problems will require more than numbers in parliament to solve them. Despite ruling the province for five consecutive years and leaving a government plan, Mahmood Khan's plate was full when he assumed the position of prime minister.

He faced the challenges of his own cabinet members looking at his seat, while his relative inexperience as an administrator made it difficult for him to handle the affairs of the province without problems. Experts told me that during the first days of the government, they didn't know who was making the decision.

Under Pervez Khattak, the groupings within the party were not so strong. Khattak was a cunning politician, who had learned his tricks under the tutelage of Aftab Sherpao. Despite the small majority, he enjoyed total control. In contrast, the meek Mahmood Khan had to please many: from those in Peshawar, to the Prime Minister's Office, to Imran Khan's internal clique.

Related: Has the PTI progressed in Balochistan?

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

A party official told me that "he comes to the meetings well prepared, takes notes, controls what happened in the previous one and has made the meetings meaningful." At the same time, his softer side and the way he treats everyone with respect forced him to the bureaucracy, which was not the case with Pervez Khattak.

The internal politics of the party was not the only thing that Mahmood Khan had to worry about. He had the gigantic task of directing the integration of the old tribal areas administered by the federal government. At first, there was a lack of direction on this issue, but considerable progress has now been made in post-merger integration.

Some of the thorny issues, such as the merger of tribal security forces and police charges, have been largely achieved. Almost all administrative departments have extended their services to the region, while at their previous meeting, the provincial cabinet dissolved the FATA Development Authority and transferred its responsibilities to KP.

Economic integration has also taken some small steps with the inclusion of merged districts in the last provincial budget. Last Tuesday, newly elected legislators from the merged districts also took an oath as members of the PK assembly after the July 20 elections.

Read below: A year of PTI in Punjab

The KP government has yet to deal with the fiasco that is the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The project has become a great shame for Imran Khan, who led a relentless campaign against similar projects in Punjab and Islamabad in his opposition years.

The BRT was so poorly planned, executed and managed that it stopped being news as much had been written about it. Mahmood Khan cannot be blamed for the disaster since the fault lies with Pervez Khattak. However, what makes the current government guilty is the complete lack of interest in finishing the project. Despite everything, Khattak pressed to carry out the project. Under his supervision, there would be two meetings each month to review progress, but this stopped under the new prime minister.

Shortly after taking over, the Mahmood Khan government replaced the KP Local Government Act of 2013 with a rather diluted version in which the provincial government abolished the district level. Now, there are only two levels of tehsil, councils of towns and neighborhoods.

Critics see it as the work of the Pakistan Administrative Service to maintain its strict control over power. They argue that after abolishing the office of mayor, the bureaucracy could administer the districts in any way they want without any opposition. Tehsil Village and neighborhood councils will have to look to the omnipotent deputy commissioner.

The relations between the center and the province that during Pervez Khattak's term remained at their lowest point, have improved considerably due to the large number of PK politicians who became members of the federal cabinet. However, provincial and federal governments recently discussed the provision of net earnings from Hydel's earnings under the AGN Kazi formula. Both sides exchanged dissenting letters and the issue seems far from over.

Read also: Has Tabdeeli come to Karachi?

In the health sector, experts say the Mahmood Khan administration has no teeth. It is said that Dr. Nausherwan Burki, a close relative of Imran Khan, is the person who actually runs the program. Recently, a bill that sought to establish authorities at the district and regional level throughout the province to administer hospitals and health centers encountered strong opposition from doctors when they went on strike for two weeks.

Ironically, after the PTI regularized the services of hundreds of employees hired in all sectors during its previous term, the bill prevents the regular appointment of doctors through the Public Service Commission of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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

The Rashakai Special Economic Zone, an emblematic project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor covering more than 1,000 acres in Nowshera on the M-1 Highway, was also launched thanks to the current government.

The PTI had already been in power at KP, and is now even stronger. This gives you the opportunity to implement your policies so that you cannot do it elsewhere. One can expect the party to continue on its current trajectory for the rest of its mandate.

Mushba Said Illustration

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