Pakistan Bulletin

An up-to-date and informed analyses of key issues of Pakistan.

Center Vs KP: PTI’s Tussle with Federation

May 2024

The tense standoff between the federal government and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, exacerbated by political power struggles, fiscal disputes, and security concerns, threatens to escalate into a major crisis amid regional instability.

The results of the 2024 elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been constantly haunting the federal government of Pakistan led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with a group of political allies. The absolute majority of the former Prime Minster Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly has solidified the party’s political position vis-à-vis its rival, the PML-N.
The federal government is now finding itself fighting on two fronts: On the one hand, the cases initiated against the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan, now imprisoned in Adiala Jail, have been leading to a mild tension with the judiciary.
On the other hand, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhthunkhwa is aggressively seeking provincial rights. Before his oath-taking as Chief Minister (CM), there was an impression that Ali Amin Gandapur, the now CM, would abandon the path of confrontation with the centre and the establishment. However, this impression was proved wrong when he started issuing public statements accusing the federal government for not allowing him to run the provincial government smoothly.

The provincial government, now led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has adopted a tough stance towards its political rival Pakistan Muslim League-N and its allies in the centre.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has governed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for a decade, yet the provincial budget has never been announced before the federal budget. For the first time in history, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government unveiled its financial budget for 2024-25 on May 25, marking a significant political move. Political analysts and economic experts describe it as a massive political statement, since seventy to eighty percent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s expenses are provided by the federal government. “When it is not known how much money the centre plans to give to the province, the budget announcement is seriously a joke,” opines Shahid Khan, an industrialist and the former president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce.
The tension between the federation and the province started with PTI when all the newly elected candidates entered the provincial assembly. These were the leaders who remained hidden for several months after May 9, 2023 and appeared after winning the elections as independent candidates. The members entered the assembly with placards carrying pictures of their jailed leader, Imran Khan. Later, when Ali Amin Gandapur took oath as the Chief Minister, he threatened in his speech on the assembly floor that action would be taken against the policemen who were involved in the crackdown against his colleagues.
During this time, he also met the Federal Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi. After this meeting, the tone of the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa softened. However, this meeting was not seen favourably by his party and the party chief Imran Khan called him for a consultation, after which Gandapur readopted a harsher tone against the federal government.
The Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is already facing a tough time from the opposition and the rival political parties in the province. At present, the law and order situation in the province is rapidly deteriorating with a sudden surge in terrorist attacks, following years of peace in the province. This wave of terrorism has now entered the southern districts from the merged tribal districts i.e. former FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). In addition to this, the economic downturn in the province has reached to a level where many departments are facing problems with paying the salaries of the employees.
The Awami National Party, the province’s opposition party, sees this situation as a conspiracy against the province. Provincial President of Awami National Party, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, in his recent comments, linked the deterioration in security and economic conditions of the province with the establishment’s eagerness to accommodate PTI, and use the party against the nationalists.
“We see that preparations are being made to bring PTI to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a balancing act. Even before the elections, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was being used as a safe fortress for PTI. Unlike the rest of the country, the leadership of PTI remained completely safe in this province and their leaders from all over the country used to get bail from Peshawar courts. The scourge of terrorism that we ended by sacrificing our lives has once again returned to the province. In ten years, this province was looted and now our voice has also been suppressed,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
In another episode of confrontation, the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhthunkhwa took exception to the load shedding in the province which is distressing the population in the midst of a prolonged heat wave in the region. The load shedding is being conducted by the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) — which functions under the federal government and supplies power to most of the province — on the pretext of power theft and low recovery from the region.
In mid-May, the CM Khyber Pakhtunkhwa gave the Federal government 15 days to cut the duration of load-shedding and issued a video message vowing to “take over” the offices of PESCO.

At present, the law and order situation in the province is rapidly deteriorating. After years-long peace in the Province there is a sudden surge in terrorist attacks.

The threat was followed by a protest and forcible takeover of one of the grid stations of the Peshawar city by a provincial MPA, who went on to activate the electricity feeders to restore the electricity supply in the area.

However, in the last week of May, the federal government extended an olive branch to the provincial government. Following a series of dialogues, both the parties made public statements pledging cooperation to control power outages and address system losses and power theft.

At the same time, the rare bonhomie is hardly indicative of a peaceful future between the two warring sides. The current Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has opted for an equally confrontational posture towards allies of the PML-N government.

Political observers had been of the view that the appointment of Faisal Karim Kundi, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party in the province, as the Governor of the province, would help break the ice with the provincial government as both the Chief Minister and the Governor belong to the same area. However, PTI continues to maintain its non-reconciliatory stance. Recently, the provincial government banned the Governor from staying at the provincial government-administered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad, conveying a clear message that it will not soften its tone for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or the parties’ allies.

According to political analysts, Imran Khan still remains a popular leader and despite imprisonment, holds the power to influence the country’s political landscape. With a political majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he is successfully disturbing not only the central coalition government but also the establishment.

The opposition leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain accuses Khan of running the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government from behind the bars. “The central government and the establishment are unable to produce a counter-narrative. With this budget stunt, he has established in advance that the reason behind the financial depression in the province is due to the central government not paying their dues. Nobody is asking that the PTI has ruled the province for the last ten years and it was due to their policies that the province is under a trillion rupees debt.”

After the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021, the internal conditions of the neighbouring country are directly affecting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There have been several instances of clashes between the two countries on the Pak-Afghan border. In such a situation, the differences and conflicts between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federation can be a precursor to a major crisis at any time.

Syed Fakhar Kakakhel


Syed Fakhar Kakakhel is a Peshawar-based senior journalist and editor at The Khorasan Diary.

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