How political happenings shaped 2017 for Pakistan's 4 provinces

From Nawaz Sharif's ouster to the failed PSP-MQM merger, Dawn recaps the developments that defined provincial politics.
Published January 2, 2018


By: Asha'ar Rehman

As the senior Sharif made his manoeuvres, the junior Sharif kept a watchful eye from the wings.
As the senior Sharif made his manoeuvres, the junior Sharif kept a watchful eye from the wings.

Quite often while summing up a year, the events that have taken place in the latter half of the calendar get more prominence compared to the attention given to the first six months.

The year 2017 was different in the sense that there was no chance of memory playing games; the first half of the year was actually less happening.

It started off with Mian Nawaz Sharif as the undisputed leader of Punjab. By the end of it, he was fighting to remain relevant.

By contrast, Imran Khan’s political profile rose by leaps and bounds. The topping came on December 15 when the Supreme Court ruled that he was as qualified as anyone to be in parliament.

As we enter the year of the elections, the PTI chief is expected to use the court ruling to expand on his presence in Punjab in aid of his chance to rule the country. This is despite the blow in the same court order which sent his trusted lieutenant, Jahangir Khan Tareen, to join Nawaz on the disqualified bench.

It would be an understatement to say that the Nawaz disqualification had a huge impact on Punjab.

It brought to the parade ground all kinds of theories not just about the good fortunes of his chief rival but also old and new versions as to who was more likely to succeed the good old Mian Sahib. This would have been unimaginable not long ago.

Since time immemorial, everyone was so very sure that Shahbaz Sharif was the solitary and worthy heir to the political legacy of his brother whom he had backed through thick and thin.

Suddenly Shahbaz was no more an automatic choice and, given the calm that has prevailed all these decades in the Sharif kingdom over the question, this was nothing short of an earthquake.

All political parties – mainstream or otherwise – took a back seat as the battle between Nawaz and Imran for supremacy in Pakistan, based primarily on their positions in Punjab, unfolded.

In a matter of days, uncertainty descended on the scene as it looked that gods had also ordained an end to Shahbaz administration to coincide with the completion of the role played by his mentor Nawaz.

There were momentary letups in the impression when some instance or occurrence was projected as a sign of a revival of Sharif politics under Shahbaz, like when the court ruled there was insufficient grounds for trying Shahbaz in the Hudaibya case.

For a lion’s share of the time, the stress was, however, on a Sharif swapped with a Sharif.

There was not so much talk about there being a rival candidate in the camps of the parties opposed to the PML-N, mainly PTI, since all other political parties have kind of taken a back seat as the battle between Nawaz and Imran for supremacy in Pakistan, based primarily on their positions in Punjab, has unfolded.

For all the noise the PTI has created, it has yet been unable to offer an alternative to the Sharif leadership in Punjab. Its focus has been totally on providing alternative leadership at the centre which has led to the experts working with some rather queer equations.

It has happened in the past, to Benazir Bhutto. Take 1988. She was the prime minister in Islamabad and quite dependent for support from Punjab to shore her government at the federal level. Yet, her presence as the chief executive of Pakistan failed to ensure a PPP chief minister in Punjab.

Likewise, power at the centre would not guarantee Imran power in Punjab. In fact, to have a PTI government in Punjab can enhance his chances for setting up a government in Islamabad.

But whatever these calculations could mean to the political mathematicians, Imran was unable to install a face in Punjab that could challenge Shahbaz.

As it appeared that Shahbaz was also at risk of being silenced and sidelined, the talk centred around on who from among Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz could replace Nawaz and Shahbaz at the same time – as in wearing the PML-N crown.

There was this time no talk about how one member of the house of Sharifs – Hamza or Maryam – could vie for the Punjab chief minister’s office whereas another – Hamza or Maryam – could aim for the prime minister’s office in Islamabad.

Perhaps it was considered to be too much to hope that some kind of a formula at power sharing could be arrived at between Hamza and Maryam on the lines of the partnership their respective fathers had struck for so long.

The fact that Shahbaz was never fully out of it was one reason may be why such advance-level deals were not discussed. One thing was clear to some observers: Nawaz had a choice of approaches.

He put forth Maryam and himself as the angry-group within the PML-N. This didn’t mean that he was any less aware of the potential of Shahbaz as someone who could still help PML-N clinch a deal with the establishment.

By all signs, Nawaz wanted both these groups to be present and active and he may favour the same arrangement for the foreseeable future.

Apart from the central matter of who was the heir-apparent to the Sharif throne, PML-N had to deal with a variety of issues in Punjab most of which surfaced in the latter half of 2017.

The Labbaik march, centred around the most sensitive issue of respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH), was one where the PML-N still has no strategy to deal with.

The resignations by five of the PML-N lawmakers was a shocking blow which left the party searching as were the allegations that provided the basis for demands for a resignation by Punjab minister Rana Sanaullah.

The minister and his part were still struggling to answer the allegations raised by a Pir in central Punjab.

The gathering at another Barelvi leader’s house, in Lahore grew, notching up such esteemed guests as Asif Zardari whose party had otherwise a limited role to play in Punjab all through the year.

It seemed that Tahirul Qadri had a crucial role – in the company of Zardari and many others plus Imran who had supported him over the Model Town killings of PAT workers in June 2014. The unveiling of the one-man tribunal on Model Town incident in early December led to speculations about the coming together of an alliance which could make it tough for the PML-N in the first few months of 2018.

And all this, despite the number of power-generating units the PML-N opened during the year and despite Shahbaz’s Orange Line train in Lahore which was allowed to go ahead by court after a legal battle with heritage-happy ‘elite’ spanning a few months.

Click on the tabs below to read the developments in other provinces in 2017.


By: Fahim Zaman Khan

PPP may have had a song-and-dance existence in Sindh for a decade, but it has a string of fresh challenges to face in its own bastion.— AFP
PPP may have had a song-and-dance existence in Sindh for a decade, but it has a string of fresh challenges to face in its own bastion.— AFP

Politicis in Sindh all through the year remained under the shadows of events taking place in Islamabad and Punjab. It started that way and ended pretty much the same way.

In January, Samar Abbas, a native of Karachi and President of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, went missing while he was in Islamabad. He was the fifth to meet the fate after social activists and bloggers went missing from Lahore, Sheikhupura and Islamabad within a week.

Not exactly a new phenomenon, yet mysterious disappearances took a turn for the worse in Sindh last year. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 110 nationalists disappeared between January and August alone. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances noted that by the end of November, the number had spiked up to 126. And, according to the Sindh Human Rights Defenders (SHRD), a volunteer organisation campaigning for the recovery of the disappeared, only nine of the missing had returned home. These are staggering numbers by any yardstick but the situation is actually horrible when compared to any single year in the recent past.

It was not without reason, as such, that a growing number of Sindhi nationalists were found quitting politics. A recent Herald feature counted over a hundred activists, hailing from Ghotki near Punjab to Mithi and Badin near the seacoast, who renounced their link to anything having anything to do with the nationalist ideology. All in a single year.

Similarly, many among the Mohajir activists in urban centres have renounced their links with MQM; either quitting politics or joining the rather sanitised MQM-P and PSP which recently traded accusations of establishment’s support.

In the absence of any meaningful enquiry, identification of reasons for such disillusionment or change of hearts is almost impossible. But apparently the ‘powers that be’ fail to realise that people do not abandon ideologies or political activism in a hurry. A professor at the Political Science department of the University of Karachi made much sense when he said that such souls simply go underground and multiply, and when they rise again it is usually impossible for anyone to stop them.

Another Hyderabad-based analyst claimed that a crumbling infrastructure, increasing unemployment and disillusionment with major political parties is what is fuelling a rapid – though silent – slide among the Sindhi youth towards separatist politics. Clubbed with a total lack of personal and political freedom, Sindh, he said, would continue to miss an ever greater number of its young in the times ahead.

From mysterious disappearances to equally mysterious machinations of the political variety, things are not quite settled in the southern province.

The provisional results of the sixth national census only added to Sindh’s woes. With massive demographic changes taking place in the country, the share of Sindh population has remained stagnant at 23 per cent `since 1981. Similarly, the share of Karachi population within Sindh has not moved beyond 33pc over the same period. This resulted in nothing but an additional layer of distrust towards the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad – each of the two having its own significance in terms of Pakistan’s political geography.

On another front, a bit of cat-and-mouse game going on in Sindh for a while continued in 2017. During the last week of 2016, Asif Ali Zardari had returned to Pakistan after ending his year-and-a-half-long self-exile. He had left the country following a hard-hitting speech against the establishment. According to party sources, his phone call to the army chief – who had just stepped into his office – had paved the way for his return. Since his return, Zardari has been highly critical of Nawaz Sharif and his ruling PML-N. The latter has hit back by accusing Zardari of “trying to please someone else”.

A few months after Zardari’s return, PPP leader Dr Asim Hussain was released from prison after 19 months. In contrast, a local court issued arrest warrants against PPP’s Farahnaz Ispahani and Nadia Gabol in a criminal case against them over holding dual nationality. The complaint was filed by the Election Commission on the directives of the Supreme Court. Then came the arrest by NAB of Sharjeel Memon, a leading PPP figure. It was all cat and mouse.

On the administrative front, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah may have brought some improvement in governance, but the omnipresence of his political bosses seems to have allowed him limited space for action. As a result, the Supreme Court (SC) and the Sindh High Court (SHC) had to intervene on basic governance issues: from law and order to waste disposal and from transfer of the police chief to provision of potable water.

As for the political landscape in terms of the scheduled general elections in 2018, upper and lower Sindh have seen some distinct strokes in the last few years. The former, for long a stronghold of Barelvi sect, saw JUI-F, a Deobandi entity, making genuine inroads, especially in Shikarpur, Sukkur and Larkana. But since the NA-120 bye-election in Lahore and the Faizabad sit-in in Islamabad, Barelvi passion seems to have reignited. With Jamaat-i-Islami actively reincarnating the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), it is getting more and more interesting to see how the PPP makes its moves to counter the challenge in its home base.

Another political challenge in the offing is the newly-formed Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) that was announced by PML-F President Pir Pagara after a meeting held at his Kingri House in Karachi with former provincial chief ministers Ghous Ali Shah, Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, Muzaffar Hussain Shah, as well as Murtaza Jatoi, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and Dr Safdar Abbasi. They also decided to get GDA registered with the Election Commission and to contest the elections with political vigour and aggression.

In urban Sindh, a failed attempt to manoeuvre a merger of MQM-P and PSP, Imran Khan’s public offer to PSP for a similar arrangement with his PTI, and subsequent reports suggesting serious negotiations in that direction all have telltale signs of establishment’s fingerprints. Needless to say the current political environment – a toxic witches’ brew, for sure – has left Sindh wide open for the establishment to have a field day ... another field day, that is.

Click on the tabs below to read the developments in other provinces in 2017.


By: Ismail Khan

Many doubt if Pervez Khattak is really in the driving seat as far as policy direction and its execution are concerned.— APP
Many doubt if Pervez Khattak is really in the driving seat as far as policy direction and its execution are concerned.— APP

In many ways, 2017 was just another year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the ever-aggressive PTI chief, Imran Khan, trying to push through a reform agenda, and the less-than enthusiastic-Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, following through.

The result was no different: a mixed bag. On the legislation front, the ruling coalition was able to enact 31 laws, something that has been its hallmark since it came to power. But while it has vigorously pursued its legislative reform agenda, implementation has either been slow or missing altogether.

The most prominent piece of legislation however, was the KP Police Act, 2017, that brought unprecedented administrative and financial autonomy to the civil law enforcement agency. The law aims at freeing the police department from any political interference, though its critics say it has insulated the police from public oversight, thus making its accountability all the more difficult.

On another front, the PTI leadership claimed that thousands of students have opted for public schools which may well be a fact, but a foreign-funded survey turned out to be dampener when it found the reason to be a steep increase in tuition fee of private schools rather than any quality improvement in public entities.

The PTI reform agenda had a rather rollercoaster ride through the year. It had its ups but then there were some embarrassing downs as well.

Education is one of PTI’s top priorities, and the KP Free and Compulsory Primary & Secondary Education Act, 2017, was another move in that direction. But a survey found that while KP surpassed other provinces in terms of infrastructure development in schools, it ranked fifth in terms of quality of primary education, lagging behind AJ&K, Islamabad Capital Territory, Punjab, Gilgit-Biltistan. This is despite the fact that education alone accounts for 21 per cent of the budgetary allocation of KP; an astounding Rs67.5 billion.

Health, another important sector, also saw its annual budget balloon from Rs18bn four years ago to Rs68bn in 2017. The results, at best, were rather mixed. The year saw the launch of Sehat Sahulat Programme at a cost of Rs5.4bn, covering 51pc of the population, which expanded further to include another 2.5 million families, thus increasing its scope to 69pc of the population. Likewise, it was able to increase the number of doctors from 3,000 to 9,000, but it struggled to improve primary and secondary health facilities. Despite receiving 11pc of the total budget, the health coverage extends to only 20pc of the population. And, like other departments, it also saw the enactment of laws with little or no tangible effect on the ground. The outbreak of the dengue virus in the provincial capital and elsewhere that left 65 people dead and thousands infected saw a government in panic.

The only project that the PTI could crow about and which it had launched with much fanfare and saw its culmination ahead of time was the Billion Tree Tsunami. Khan’s passion and pet project saw, according to the Department of Environment, plantation of over a billion trees in the province.

Of the total, however, plantation of 40pc was executed, while the remaining 60pc have been envisioned to come through re-generation of forests. The project had its share of controversy as well when an officer of the anti-corruption department was sent packing after he launched an investigation into the distribution of nurseries amongst influentials and bigwigs. He was summarily removed and an official inquiry duly got buried. It was the province’s bad luck that bodies set up to attract investment, both local and foreign, either remained mired in controversies or failed to take off altogether for lack of strategic direction and leadership.

The Bank of Khyber, with majority shares owned by the government of KP, courted the ire of its minister in-charge for posting a newspaper advertisement citing political interference. Dubbed by opposition as the ‘Khyber- Leaks’, the saga came to an end only when a threat by the Jamaat-i-Islami to pull out of the coalition government led to the unceremonious departure of the bank’s managing director.

Something similar happened with KP’s Economic Zones Development & Management Company where the chairman of its Board of Directors was forced to go on leave following allegations of irregularities. Its CEO, believed to be close to a PTI bigwig, had resigned earlier after his arrest by NAB in a case in Punjab.

Likewise, KP Energy Development Organisation saw the departure of its chief executive, widely believed to have been hand-picked by another senior PTI leader, following a ruling by the Peshawar High Court that declared him unqualified. The KP Oil & Gas Limited had to face a near-similar fate when its chief financial officer resigned alleging irregularities and corruption. Its chairman quit subsequently, citing health reasons.

But nothing else perhaps has done the PTI more political damage than the matters concerning the KP Ehtesab Commission. The anti-graft body that was touted to introduce across-the-board accountability has been mired in controversy from day one, but the matters had gone more acute when its director-general resigned in February, 2016. The body has been without a formal head ever since, and, despite amendments, it has failed to take off.

But with this performance on the ground, will the PTI repeat its surprisingly thumping performance of the previous elections this time round? The jury is still out on this one, but if the recent NA-4 bye-election in Peshawar is anything to go by, the PTI is now a force to be reckoned with in KP.

With elections on the horizon, political parties are scampering to forge alliances. The PTI has formed an alliance with Samiul Haq’s JUI, apparently in an effort to scuttle the revival of MMA. It is also trying to court the JI despite an uncomfortable relationship. The others are yet to make up their mind.

The PML-N and JUI-F are likely to get into an alliance, that is, if the MMA doesn’t come about. This may leave the ANP, the other major political party in KP, all alone to fend for itself or get into an alliance with the PPP, though the two have never had a happy relationship. And while these political parties try and forge new alliances, one of the major issues on everyone’s agenda would be the Fata reforms. So far, while almost all political parties share the same goal: Fata’s merger with KP, the JUI-F seems to be standing alone – with a confused and ambivalent ally; the PML-N.

And, finally, while the security situation remained largely under control, there were sporadic attacks. In Peshawar, the attack on Agriculture Training Institute was the most audacious, reminiscent of the attack on Army Public School in 2014. The attacks, fewer than before, are a grim reminder that the scourge of terrorism is not over, even if its back is said to have been broken.

Click on the tabs below to read the developments in other provinces in 2017.


By: Dr Noman Ahmed

Much has been made of Baloch insurgents surrendering their arms, but public displays often evoke more scepticism than belief.— Asmatullah Kakar
Much has been made of Baloch insurgents surrendering their arms, but public displays often evoke more scepticism than belief.— Asmatullah Kakar

As if in line with the trend, the year gone by brought few positives for Balochistan even amid all the talks of CPEC initiatives supposedly erasing the longstanding woes of many. The province continued to brave bouts of terror assaults causing varying scales of damage and destruction.

The suicide attack on the convoy of Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in Mastung in May and the killing of 10 labourers in Gwadar the next day were chilling acts of terror. A Chinese couple was also kidnapped the same month and was confi rmed dead in October. The trouble continued for the rest of the year, with the killing of a bunch of police offi cials and family members, and the discovery of 15 bullet-riddled bodies of young people from the Punjab in Turbat, confi rming that all is far from being well in the province.

If the previous years were marked by sectarian trouble, in 2017 the colour had more ethnic overtones. With 2018 being the election year – at least planned to be so – the continuing strife has cast a doubt about the ability of the provincial government and its security apparatus to manage the kind of peace that is a pre-requisite for pre-poll campaigning and other usual election stuff.

The rather disappointing response from mainstream political parties regarding the grave challenges that Balochistan faces has been regrettable. The overall approach and conduct of National Party (NP) – arguably a prominent liberal voice – seems to have lost steam after Dr Abdul Malik Baloch relinquished the chief minister’s offi ce under a political agreement with the PML-N. It was generally believed that NP would be able to use its good offi ces to win back warring factions of various nationalist groups and help in re-integrating them in the mainstream constitutional politics. However, that never happened.

With alleged clandestine links with external troublemakers, the hardliners do not seem to be interested in any dialogue with the political entities in the province. In this backdrop, the establishment for all practical purposes is calling the shots in key governance affairs, making the provincial government appear worthless. For intelligent politicians, this situation can be turned into a vibrant and binding political call to mobilise the masses during forthcoming elections for enhancing the role of the provincial administration. One can only hope that this rallying opportunity is picked up by the Baloch leadership in the right spirit.

The colour of trouble may have changed from sectarian to ethnic, but things have remained on the slide. will the 2018 elections change anything substantially?

Towards the end of the year, two disclosures related to CPEC alarmed the people. It was revealed that China would bag 91 per cent of revenue with the remaining to be given to Gwadar Port Authority, which is a federal entity, leaving the locals empty-handed. Secondly, the Chinese government temporarily halted funding of various components of about Rs1 trillion worth of highway projects. There shall be a revision in the ‘guidelines’ by the Chinese side till the work may resume. Disappointingly, the bulk of this highway construction was part of the western corridor of CPEC that shall benefi t Balochistan. And this is not the fi rst time such a twist has taken place.

An earlier regime had launched Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package with great pomp and show, but it failed to trigger economic development ... or hope. Similar examples of federally-sponsored projects have generated several controversies. Projects related to expropriation of land and resources by other communities and state agencies; marginalisation from mega development projects; and plans for the construction of military garrisons in Sui, Kohlu, Awaran and Gwadar are the key concerns cited by some factions of Baloch leadership and civil society.

Sections of the local population also allege that the overt and covert roles of security agencies are another cause of simmering discontent. Thousands of people have disappeared leaving behind question marks about the veracity of offi cial claims.

The provincial situation appears largely internationalised. The cyberspace is getting polluted by the nefarious campaign run by anti-Pakistan elements to pressurise government in multiple ways. And one fi nds native Baloch citizens whispering that CPEC, which is likely to initiate large-scale investment schemes in real estate ventures and other development sectors, may not benefi t the Baloch directly, as bulk of investors shall be from outside the province. What the locals are looking forward to are schemes with an instant impact on livelihood and enterprising opportunities for the sons of the soil. However, such enterprises are not in sight and that is making things worse.

Whoever forms the government in the wake of the 2018 elections would do well to at least try to address the active and passive fault lines within the province. Sectarian tensions, Baloch-Pakhtun issues, ownership and management of development enterprises (including CPEC-tagged initiatives), lurking and hiding youth groups that feed militant designs, federal-provincial relations and revenue-sharing matters, poor status of social infrastructure, matters of reported and un-reported ‘missing’ people are some core points deserving of sustained efforts.

The trust of the disgruntled people and the establishment must be restored in the political process. Only free and fair elections in every sense of the term would give the province a fresh leadership. In order to set the course of action, the new setup will have to display a magnanimous attitude by announcing amnesty and ceasefi re. Consultative process along these issues will have to be launched involving mainstream political parties as well as leaders of the various smaller groups active on the scene. Release of political detainees and help in locating the ‘missing’ individuals can be a decent way to convince the naysayer.

The government must not shrug aside centrifugal forces in Balochistan. The best way is to provide political space to help evolve a feeling of participation amongst all political forces. It is common sense that no political group can become a security threat if genuinely accommodated in the normal political process. Balochistan is waiting.