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Pakistan's Anti-American Party Is Unraveling In Restive Province

Pakistan - Imran Khan, Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Islamabad November 8, 2013.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Seven months after being voted into power for promising reforms, a provincial government in a restive northwestern Pakistani province is falling apart as it fails to improve security and services.

The provincial administration of Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI), or Justice Party, pledged jobs, peace and an end to rampant corruption in the government as it vowed to create a 'New Pakistan' after winning most seats in the parliamentary election in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province last year.

But Pakhtunkhwa residents are now disillusioned. They point to rising insecurity and a lack of tangible improvement in key government services as evidence of the new administration's failure.

Observers say that the provincial capital Peshawar is now one of the most insecure districts in the region as it reels from frequent bombings, assassinations and rising criminality.

Diminishing Authority

Ghulam Dastagir, a Peshawar-based journalist, says security in the province is sliding rapidly. "If the previous five years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are reminiscent of a record number of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, the past seven months are known for an unprecedented surge in targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

He says that rising insecurity in the restive province has weakened the government's authority, which has prompted wealthy residents to leave the region for relatively safer parts of the country. "This is causing a major capital flight from the impoverished region during the past few months," Dastagir says.

Commentators see PTI's response to terrorism in Pakistan as contributing to insecurity. The party's leader and former cricketing icon Imran Khan argues that suspected U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan's restive northwestern tribal regions foment anger and retribution, which are eventually expressed in terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities.

Khan and senior party leaders have rarely condemned the Taliban for such attacks even after militant factions accepted responsibility for killing PTI lawmakers.

An outspoken critic of suspected U.S. drone attacks, Khan ordered PTI zealots to block NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after a suspected CIA drone strike killed senior Afghan Taliban commanders in the province in late November.
It was against this backdrop that PTI leaders failed to visit the family of 9th grader, Aitizaz Hassan. Hassan, 15, was killed as he foiled the suicide bombing of his school by tackling the bomber in a remote district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on January 6.

After days of relentless criticism in the media, Khan publically chided Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial government leader, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, for failing to visit the schoolboy's family. But he still refrained from condemning the extremists for masterminding the callous attack.

Tauseef-ur-Rehman, a Peshawar-based journalist, finds PTI's approach troubling. "PTI leadership is shying away from adopting an aggressive policy against those challenging the authority of the state," he says. "It has not only emboldened the militants and criminals, but also affected the morale of the security forces."

Rehman says that the Taliban are encroaching on Peshawar from the Darra Adamkhel tribal region in the east and Khyber tribal district in the west as criminal gangs control some of its outskirts, such as Matani, Sheikhan and Kohi Hassan Khel.

Pakistan -- Supporters of Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, check the documents of a truck driver at an unofficial checkpoint in a bid to block the NATO supply trucks in Peshawar, December 4, 2013
Pakistan -- Supporters of Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, check the documents of a truck driver at an unofficial checkpoint in a bid to block the NATO supply trucks in Peshawar, December 4, 2013
PTI leaders, however, claim that the so-called 'war on terrorism’ in Pakistan is a foreign war. They say that the day Islamabad distances itself from this struggle, half of all terrorist violence in the country will automatically vanish.

"Our sovereignty is being violated and our people are being killed in drone strikes," PTI lawmaker Haji Fazal Elahi says. "The bomb blasts here are a reaction to the federal government’s wrong policies," he argues.

Internal Squabbles

Insiders say PTI provincial leaders are still bitterly divided despite overcoming initial rifts over the distribution of key government posts.

A provincial lawmaker privy to PTI's internal struggle says the party is divided between factions loyal to Khattak and provincial parliament speaker, Asad Qaisar. He says that the two blocs often invite Khan to settle their differences, even over petty issues.

The lawmaker, requesting anonymity because of possible reprisals from party leaders, says that PTI has strong differences with its coalition partners, the Jammat-e Islami and the smaller Awami Jamhuri Ittehad Pakistan factions.

"Recently PTI vetoed an attempt by Jammat-e Islami to remove passages about [Pashtun pacifist leader] Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his sons Abdul Wali Khan and Ghani Khan from school books," he says "PTI's education minister Atif Khan said they are Pashtun heroes."

The PTI is facing court cases after forcing another coalition partner, the Qaumi Watan Party, out of the provincial government in November after accusing its ministers of corruption.

Economic Woes

Being a main opposition party in the national parliament, the PTI is at loggerheads with the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz-led federal government. PTI lawmakers claim their administration lacks resources to fund the development projects it announced in its annual budget last year.

In addition, the closure of NATO supplies has hit the transportation industry. Trucking is a main source of livelihood for thousands of impoverished Pashtun families from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining tribal regions.

Even diehard party loyalists are not happy with their administration's performance. A disgruntled supporter recently confronted lawmaker Elahi publically as he toured a party protest camp near Peshawar where volunteers stopped NATO trucks from moving into Afghanistan.

"You have to deliver now," the middle-aged man, who refused to give his name, told Elahi.

"You promised a job for my son, which was why my family voted for your party," he said.