Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-Parliamentarians (PTI-P), which was without a doubt born yesterday, seems confident to claim enough seats in the February 8 general elections to form government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which was once the bastion of the Imran Khan-founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The PTI-P, a splinter of the PTI, was formed after its chairman, Pervez Khattak, abandoned his long-time friend and leader, Imran Khan, in the aftermath of the May 9, 2023 events, as he did not have the strength to suffer the insufferable.
He became the chair of the PTI-P on July 23 of the previous year, with former chief minister Mahmood Khan as its vice-chairman.
Khattak and Mahmood Khan were previously associated with PTI and remained close to former prime minister Imran Khan.
The May 9, 2023, violent protests left the PTI and its leaders in deep trouble. The circumstances forced many to quit the party.
Many PTI leaders had to condemn the violent protests at press conferences besides announcing their decision to either quit politics or part ways with the PTI.
Khattak and Mahmood Khan were among those who decided to launch their political party in the aftermath of the May 9 protests which saw attacks on army installations following Imran Khan’s arrest.
Though Khattak had claimed that he was offered “bat” as an electoral symbol, the Election Commission of Pakistan allotted him “turban”.
The PTI-P is no doubt the youngest political party in KP, the man behind its formation is a street-smart and experienced politician.
Khattak held several positions and remained part of many governments.
He started his political career as a general councillor in his native Manki village in Nowshera district and ultimately became the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013.
He was associated with the Pakistan People’s Party and became district nazim Nowshera during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
He was part of the Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S), which was later renamed as Qaumi Watan Party (QWP).
Khattak was elected an MPA from Nowshera and was made the irrigation minister in the cabinet of then-chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti during the coalition government of Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2008-2013.
He later joined the PTI and was elected as provincial president of the party in KP.
No doubt if the PTI existed in KP, it was Pervez Khattak who worked hard to organise the party and roped in many electables.
The PTI emerged victorious in the 2013 general election but couldn’t form its government singlehandedly.
Known for manoeuvring, Khattak managed to cobble up a coalition government comprising Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Aftab Sherpao’s QaumiWatan Party.
Despite heading a coalition, Khattak turned out to be a powerful chief minister. He initiated several mega projects in KP, including the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Peshawar, though Imran Khan had initially opposed it, and the Swat Expressway that helped boost tourism in Swat and the rest of the Malakand region.
According to PTI’s insiders, Imran Khan never felt comfortable with Khattak but he was aware of his strength and potential capabilities, therefore, he never challenged him publicly.
Then came the 2018 general elections that the PTI swept and emerged with a simple majority.
Pervez Khattak was adamant about becoming the chief minister for a second term but another PTI MPA from Mardan, Mohammad Atif Khan, challenged him.
Khattak formed a forward bloc in the party and had told The News on record that he would quit PTI and politics if he was not made the chief minister.
The standoff between Khattak and Atif intensified and the party leadership decided to appoint Mahmood Khan as chief minister.
Khattak would always claim that he had appointed Mahmood Khan as chief minister.
Atif Khan in the very beginning developed differences with Mahmood Khan.
He and Shahram Khan Tarakai were removed from the cabinet on the directives of Imran Khan when he was informed that both of them were creating a forward bloc in the party against Mahmood Khan.
The May 9 violence in the country put the PTI in trouble. Since Pervez Khattak and Asad Qaiser were also close to Imran Khan, that’s why he sent both of them to the establishment for talks to resolve issues with the military leadership.
Their meeting lasted for hours and Khattak and Asad Qaiser in the middle of the night appeared to hold a press conference and condemned the May 9 violence. He later disassociated himself from PTI but despite pressure, Asad Qaiser chose to stay with Imran Khan.
Khattak, in July 2023 convened a meeting in which he invited PTI’s former parliamentarians to announce joining his new party.
Khattak enjoyed the support of the establishment as it was believed he could bring PTI’s electables to PTI-P.
He had initially claimed to have brought around 70 former parliamentarians from PTI to PTI-P, but the majority of them who had attended the inaugural meeting in Peshawar later denied his claim.
PTI-P has found only 31 people to contest the election on PTI-P ticket for the National Assembly. Similarly, in KP, where Khattak is confident of forming his government, his party has allotted tickets to only 65 candidates in the 115-member assembly.
Khattak will need the support of 73 assembly members to become the chief minister.
Mansoor Ali Durrani, the spokesman for PTI-P, argued that the majority of the PTI candidates contesting as independent contenders had promised to join Khattak after the election. “PTI-P is the youngest political party and we didn’t have enough time to campaign and find good candidates. However, the majority of PTI candidates contesting independently have promised to support Khattak after the election,” he claimed.
He said they had fielded candidates in major places but they would mostly focus on Nowshera and Swat where two of their leaders were contesting elections.
Khattak had initially visited major parts of the province to garner support from PTI’s former parliaments but after he could not succeed, he and his PTI-P had started focusing on Nowshera and Swat, the hometown of Mahmood Khan.
Nowshera has two National Assembly seats and five provincial assembly constituencies, and all the party tickets were allotted to Khattak, his two sons and a son-in-law to contest the elections. Khattak himself is contesting for NA-33, PK-87, and PK-88.
His son-in-law Dr Imran Khattak, who also won the election on a PTI ticket in 2018, was allotted a PTI-P ticket for NA-35 and PK-89. His two sons, Ibrahim Khattak and Ismail Khattak, are running for PK-85 and PK-86 respectively.
Khattak is first time facing his brother, Liaquat Khattak on PK-87, and nephew AhadKhattak on PK-88. Besides his brother and nephew, Khattak is also facing tough competition from PTI candidates.
Compared to Khattak, Mahmood Khan is stated to have a strong position in his native Swat, where he is competing for the national and provincial assemblies.
Both of them had spent heavy funds during the PTI government. Khattak publicly challenged Imran Khan and started criticising his former leader.
But Mahmood Khan has adopted a completely different approach. Though he parted ways with Imran Khan, he never criticised him.
The writer is a correspondent for The News International based in Peshawar