Veteran politician Pervez Khattak, 74, has recently made headlines after he chipped a splinter off the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He was in such a rush that he registered the off-shoot under the same name and just suffixed it with “Parliamentarians” to save time as well as face.
So now Khattak, who and Imran Khan were once proverbially inseparable at one time, is the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-Parliamentarians (PTI-P).
The party, inaugurated weeks ahead of elections, is entering the polls with the symbol of turban, which epitomises honour, recognition, and pride not only in Pashtun but also in other cultures across Pakistan.
Khattak, who decided to walk out on PTI after the unfortunate events that transpired on May 9, 2023, is hoping to take a chunk out of his previous party’s mandate after the Supreme Court denied it its iconic electoral symbol, the cricket bat.
Khattak is geared up to jump into the February 8, 2024, general election from Nowshera’s National Assembly seat (NA-33) and two Provincial Assembly seats (PK-87 and PK88), while his sons Ibrahim Khattak and Ismail Khattak, and his son-in-law, Imran Khattak, are vying for provincial assembly positions.
The Khattak family is betting on seven Nowshera seats, which is too big a gamble for them as no one knows how voters are going to react to the sentence after sentence being awarded to PTI’s jailed founder, garnering sympathy for him.
The PTI-P has fielded 73 candidates for the provincial assembly’s 115 seats. Among them, only a few, including former Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan, are truly electable.
While 17 party candidates are in the electoral battle for provincial elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only Khattak and Khan are the frontrunners that matter.
Word has it that behind the scenes some potential realignments are being negotiated. Analysts have been speculating that some PTI power players, particularly the independents, contesting polls on PTI tickets, might defect to PTI-P post-election.
Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, the leader of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), formerly called Pakistan People’s Party–Sherpao (PPP-S), dubs Pervez Khattak “the king of political manipulation”.
PTI-P’s vice-chairman, former Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, is currently actively trying to poach PTI-electables for Khattak’s PTI-P, potentially playing a decisive role in future alliances.
Moreover, this manoeuvre could brighten Khattak’s dimming political future, even giving him a boost to reclaim the seat of chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa if he makes a mark in Nowshera.
However, Khattak and his cronies’ failure to mobilise more support or defection of allies could reduce PTI-P to only a flash in the pan — dependent on external lifelines.
Born in the house of Hastam Khan, Khattak, comes from a family of builders and constructors that predates Pakistan. That is why in his early years he became a government contractor and supervised development work in many districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
His uncle, Mir Aslam Khan Khattak’s pre-eminent political standing back in the day paved the way for his forays into local politics. It must be noted that Aslam’s son, Nasrullah Khan Khattak, was the sixth elected chief minister of the then North-West Frontier Province and served from May 3 1975 to April 19, 1977, in the Bhutto era. After his death, when the Khattak family started looking for a political successor, the name of Khattak came forward.
After a roaring business career, Khattak tried his luck in politics and after some early hiccups secured a district council seat. In his stint with the PPP, he did win a Nowshera provincial assembly seat in 1988, becoming part of the cabinet.
Subsequent affiliations and partings saw him hold various ministerial positions and serve as Nowshera district Nazim. His involvement with PTI before the 2013 elections positioned him as a trusted colleague of the founding chairman.
In 2013, PTI became the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s majority party, with Khattak securing the chief minister’s post despite challenges.
His political manoeuvring was further evident when he successfully assumed the role from Islamabad, sidelining Asad Qaiser to become Speaker.
Anticipating the establishment’s inclination towards the PTI before the last elections, Khattak strategically guided them to victory, forming a two-thirds majority government.
However, his desire to install Atif Khan as chief minister was scuppered and Mehmood Khan got the seat.
Khattak’s parting ways with the PTI to form PTI-P lays bare his dubious habit of giving a serious ear to non-political counsellors. It also highlights his propensity to switch parties based on their incompetent advice.
It must be noted that the promotion of tourism, merging of districts, improvement of social welfare programmes, and youth initiatives are at the top of PTI-P’s manifesto.
Despite drawing fire for the flawed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project during his chief minister tenure, Khattak is actively involved in Nowshera, venturing into substantial development work and offering jobs to party workers.
Moreover, the legislative feathers in his cap include the passage of crucial laws and reforms in sectors like education and health.
While his past political decisions strongly indicate Khatak has a penchant for strategic readjustments based on the opportunities and his fondness for listening to others, the elections and the likely post-vote alliances will forge the PTI-P’s future trajectory.
And this will also define what’s next for Khattak in terms of politics.
Whether Khattak’s political manoeuvring lands the PTI-P in a negotiating position in the formation of the government in the centre as well as in the province or it just ends up in a political orphanage is yet to be seen by all.
The writer is a Geo News correspondent based in Peshawar. He posts @shakeel_farman
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