In the run-up to the election it was becoming clear that the province of Khyber Pakhtunwa (KP) is going to witness a rivalry between several religious groupings, each trying to outdo each other in religious fervour. This scenario was apparent after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) made an alliance with JUI-S and also when the MMA was restored. The first clash between the two alliances is over the KP government’s decision to allow a monthly stipend for prayer leaders of the province. PTI government went ahead with the decision which was criticised widely for being a thinly disguised bribe to the religious vote bank.

Now MMA is using the same premise for criticising the move, but has added a few embellishments as well. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) claimed that “the K-P government is implementing the Western agenda by proposing appointment of paid imams in mosques,” and that such moves were “un-Islamic”. The KP government’s decision may not have been a foreign agenda against the clerics, as claimed by the opposing alliance, but it is certainly an unnecessary use of government resources. But for the JUI-F and PTI, the stipend can potentially be the first of many clashes to come, and not just a political one, but a theological one as well.

On the electoral front, this opposition by the MMA proves that PTI is going to have a tough time in the province before the general elections. The MMA will not let PTI appease the religious vote bank with such ease. Countering such criticism will require a very effective agenda setting by PTI. Ultimately however, this is only a futile clash as theological debates are never won by any party, but the alliances are ready to fight these battles because this is safest ground to battle on.