NA-1: The Tsunami Breaker

By the morning of May 12, the PTI’s tsunami had officially swept through Peshawar valley. This was a victory that was mostly at the expense of the ANP, thus prompting many to declare it to be a spent force – the strongest proof of which was the routing of Ghulam Ahmad Bilour on NA-1 and that too with a mammoth margin of 66,000 votes.

Yet, just two months later, Ghulam Bilour has reclaimed his seat. So what exactly happened? One explanation paints the PTI as being alone against an alliance of the ANP, the PPP, and the JUI-F – and thus overwhelmed by its experienced opposition. But then that is factually incorrect since the PTI had its own set of allies, including the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). Furthermore, the local leadership of the PML-N had also announced its support for PTI.

 The strength of these two alliances can be assessed from their performance during the recent general elections. On May 11, the PPP and the JUI-F had a total of 11,859 votes while the JI, the QWP and the PML-N had 12,977 votes for NA-1. Based on these numbers, the PTI actually had a stronger electoral alliance when compared with the ANP.

 The selection of Gul Bacha is another reason cited for the PTI’s defeat, as he was a ‘non-entity’. But then just two months ago another non-entity, Javed Nasim, defeated Haroon Bilour on PK-3. It should be mentioned here that this is the constituency of Bashir Bilour Shaheed, one that he managed to maintain even during the MMA’s whitewash of 2002. Yet despite Bashir Bilour’s martyrdom, PK-3 preferred a non-entity to his son, perhaps because the non-entity came with the name of the PTI – a name that generated trust and hope.

In my opinion the PTI’s defeat in NA-1 is a weakening of its ability to generate trust. It was this particular ability that allowed the party to sweep Peshawar valley with mere non-entities. But now that trust is being squandered because of the immature behaviour of its leadership and, more importantly, through the inability of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to deliver on its promises.

 The immaturity of the PTI leadership was evident in the way it dealt with Samad Mursalin. This is the same Samad Mursalin who ran from PF-2 (now PK-2, a sub-constituency of NA-1) on a PTI ticket in 1997. He was the face of the party in Peshawar back in the 1990s. One would expect that, considering Samad’s long-time association, Imran Khan himself would have tried to defuse the situation by convincing Samad in person.

 However, it appears that Imran Khan was actually avoiding Samad, and that too in the most ridiculous of manners. Apparently when Samad tried to meet Imran Khan at the CM House in Peshawar, he was tricked into going into a waiting room and then was locked inside along with his workers. They were allowed to leave only after Imran Khan had left the premises. Samad’s angry press conference after this incident was reported by both local and national press.

 Subsequently, the provincial leadership made a few half-hearted attempts, but then publicly announced the cancellation of Samad’s membership right before election. And just for extra measure called him a “back stabber” in an official statement. Samad’s reaction to this childish behaviour needs to be seen as more of a response to an insult rather than a breach of loyalty.

 But would a mere ticket allocation explain this defeat? Many claim an unofficial victory for the PTI by saying that the sum total of Samad and Gul Bacha’s votes is more than that of the ANP. However, this claim is incorrect since according to the ECP, Samad received a total of 1,707 votes while Bacha received 28,911. Their total of 30,681 votes is still less than that of the ANP at 34,386 votes. So even if there were no splits, the PTI would still have either lost this seat or managed a very close win.

 Surely this massive reduction of 66,000 votes – that too within a span of two months – can’t only be associated with the selection of a wrong candidate. A constituency of 320,000 registered voters must have had other issues that affected its voting decision.

 In my opinion this is where the PTI’s performance comes into play. Eighty-three days is more than enough time to assess promises that were made to be fulfilled within 90 days. It is very clear that the party has been unable to meet the standards of governance and conduct it had demanded of the previous government and which it promised to its voters.

 But besides not being able to meet its own set standards, the PTI is also struggling to keep up with its predecessors. This is especially true when it comes to terrorism, an issue that is central to the terror-ridden constituency of NA-1, whose Qissa Khawani bazaar has been a preferred target of the Taliban.

 It is no coincidence that after the arrival of PTI’s government, there has been a sudden increase in the Taliban’s extortion activities in Peshawar. This has mainly affected the business community – a substantial proportion of which is based in the inner city, an area that falls under NA-1. The government’s response has largely been ineffective as there are reports of a demoralised police force, with some officials blaming the PTI government for a lack of resolve in fighting the TTP. This lack is evident in the inability of the PTI government to even condemn the Taliban.

 On talk shows it has become a joke to get an unconditional condemnation of the TTP from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s ministers, with both opposition leaders as well as anchors daring PTI leaders to do so. On on TV talk show, Shaukat Yousafzai went to the extent of saying that he had not heard about the TTP’s threats to the ANP, the PPP and the MQM and would not, therefore, condemn them.

 While such wisdom buys safety for the PTI, it is also costing it the trust of the people who came out in droves to vote for them. It is very likely that the tsunami that began in the Peshawar valley could very well end here as well and, from the looks of it, the process for that might have already started.