Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) is making increasingly flagrant attempts to retain its voter bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Initially posing itself as a progressive party, they have firmly moved towards the right and have taken several steps to appease the right wing voters in the province. In a recent move on Monday, the KP cabinet has approved Rs10,000 monthly stipend for prayer leaders of the main mosques in KP – which will cost the government a whopping Rs3.25 billion annually.
After forming the electoral alliance with Jamiat Ulema Islam-Sami (JUI- S) and the on-going battle between Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Fazl (JUI-F) trying to outdo each other in religiosity, this move can only is described as a thinly-veiled attempt to bribe the religious leaders of the province. The provincial government has provided no statement as to why the move was taken, in fact it is doubtful if it even has one. The prayer leaders are doing pretty well for themselves and do not need the tax payers money to sustain their livelihood. Religious clerics are not living in conditions of extreme poverty especially with the support provided by the KP government in the last four years and the booming madrassah education sector.
Furthermore, the move is only providing this amount to the most influential religious clerics of the province, who are already well settled and provided for. If the amount was given to the deserving ones, the move would have made marginally more sense.
It is also a very hypocritical move by a party that constantly criticises the government for misplacing and the taxpayers’ money – that too to “influence voters”. Subsidies given to farmers across Punjab by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on the eve of elections were rightly criticised for being political bribes. Now the KP cabinet, and the PTI is doing exactly the same, equally shamelessly.
The larger problem in this situation, however, in PTI’s case is the mainstreaming of radical elements in the society. With the start of their tenure in KP, they handed over the curriculum of the province to JI. They later approved a grant of Rs300 million to religious seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania. The problematic thing is that this stipend further strengthens clerics and the seminary boards – whose clerics are the only one eligible for the cash - without making any accompanying attempt to regulate or rein them in. The party, and Imran Khan, needs to be held accountable for these decisions especially in light of the National Action Plan (NAP).