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An Interview with Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mahmood Khan

Formation of government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013 was one of the most important milestones in the political odyssey of Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The years-long struggle for a platform for the proper manifestation of PTI’s ideology resulted in attainment of power in the province that had innumerable issues but a starkly honest and upright soul. The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa trusted Khan to pay much-needed attention to their problems.

So much confidence was shown in PTI’s leadership that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa re-voted for PTI in 2018, resulting in two consecutive victories of one party, a phenomenon rare in the electoral history of the province.

Being the first province to ever have PTI-led government, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was many things to PTI, most importantly, a microcosm of the tangibility of talent, farsightedness, and fulfilment of the manifesto of Khan’s dream of making Pakistan the best version of itself. The focus on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains unchanged. It will always be the province the governance of which was the first litmus test of Khan’s PTI in power.

A step-by-step evaluation of the past and the present success and failure of the last eight years of PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is beyond the scope and intention of this terse introduction.

Actions trump words. With that in mind, I contacted the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Office, and asked, via email, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan a few questions regarding his government’s work:

Mehr Tarar: What are some of the major Annual Development Plans (ADP) for the upcoming budget?

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan: The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, through its development agenda, strives to ensure sustained and equitable improvements in the lives of the people. To ensure inclusive economic growth in line with sustainable development goals, tapping its comparative advantages to improve its socioeconomic indicators.

A major fund allocation has been made for various ongoing projects for early completion. There are 102 schemes, costing 82 billion rupees, for high priority projects in the Newly Merged Districts (NMD). Approximately 400-kilometer extension of roads; better equipped BHUs and DHQs; basic school stationary for 500,000 students; advanced education infrastructure for approximately 1,000 schools; industrial training and employment for 500,000 inhabitants; irrigation of 2,800 acres; access to clean drinking water for 500,000 plus people; 6 MV of hydropower.

For the Settled Districts, 90 schemes identified as high impact are to be completed after 2023. Approximately 300-kilometer extension of roads, including Swat Expressway phase-II, for regional connectivity and economic growth; health reforms to benefit 10 million people; solarisation of 8,000 schools, 2,000 BHUs, 4,000 mosques; clean drinking water for approximately 400,000 people; sustainability of 13,000 SMEs for creation of approximately 350,000 jobs; and 80,000 micro enterprises for employment of 500,000 workers.

How is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa dealing with COVID-19?

Following the establishment of NCOC in February 2020, a provincial task force and the Emergency Operation Cell were established in KP. Our government declaring a medical emergency directed the health department, PDMA, district administration, and other relevant departments to make necessary arrangements on a war footing basis. PPE was provided to frontline healthcare workers across the province. ICU beds were increased from 0 to 338, HDU from 235 to 945, isolation beds from 1,517 to 4,500. Also added were 7,985 oxygen cylinders, 733 BiPAP/CPAP machines, and 276 ventilators.

14 Public Health Laboratories have been established, enhancing KP’s daily testing capacity from zero to 8,110. Central oxygen supply, initially available only in nine hospitals, was increased to 14 hospitals.

COVID-19 vaccination started on February 3, 2021. More than 800,000 individuals have been vaccinated; around 35,000 individuals are being vaccinated daily.

The Sehat Sahulat programme is a splendid achievement of your government. What are some of its key elements?

The Sehat Card Plus Scheme is our government’s flagship social health protection programme to ensure free treatment, in public as well as private sector hospitals, to the entire population of the province. Excluding OPD services, free-of-cost treatment facilities for all major diseases are covered under this scheme. We are also planning to include some costly treatments such as bone marrow, kidney, and liver transplants in the Sehat Card Plus Scheme to make it a more comprehensive programme.

How many new hospitals have been made in the province?

Since 2018, some of our key works in the healthcare sector include:

- Upgradation of Women and Children Hospital, Bannu

- Establishment of Fountain House, Peshawar

- Construction of two gyms, new wards, and OTs in Paraplegic Centre, Peshawar

- Upgradation and standardisation of DHQ Hospital, Kohistan

- Reconstruction of healthcare facilities damaged in July-August 2010 floods

- Construction of building for Gomal Medical College, phase II, Dera Ismail Khan

- Establishment of KMU Institute of Nursing and Medical Technology

- Upgradation and refurbishment of Dental College and dental departments in Saidu Group of Teaching Hospital, Swat

- Upgradation of Peshawar Institute of Cardiology

- Upgradation of district Nowshera’s RHC Manki Sharif, Dag Ismail Khel, and Ziarat Kaka Sahib to category hospitals

- New equipment for Institute of Kidney Diseases, Hayatabad, Peshawar

- Upgradation of CH Topi to Category-C Hospital, Swabi

- Upgradation of district Swabi’s RHC Yar Hussain to Category-D Hospital

- Development and standardisation of DHQ Hospital Batkhela, Malakand

- Development of THQ Hospital Drosh, Chitral

- Purchase of land for Gajju Khan Medical College, Swabi

- Provision of funds for Burns and Trauma Centre, Peshawar

- 500-bed new building in Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar

- Establishment of Peshawar Institute of Cardiology

- Burn and Plastic Surgery Centre, Peshawar

- Women and Children Hospital Rajjar, Charsadda

- Addition of 80 beds in Institute of Kidney Diseases, Peshawar

- 110-bed category-C hospital in Topi, Swabi

- 210-bed new building in Bacha Khan Medical Complex, Swabi

- 100-bed new block in DHQ Hopital, Mardan

What is your government doing to ensure the availability of clean drinking water in the province?

Quality of all water sources are checked before implementation of any new programme. Our LGE&RD department has installed numerous filtration plants under the Clean Drinking Water for All programme. 600 water supply schemes implemented in the last three years to provide potable drinking water. For availability of quality water, PHED has established eight water quality monitoring labs at DHQ. Eight mobile water quality labs have also been recently added to increase quality sampling from remote areas.

PHED has adopted a zero-leakage regime. Cleaning of water storage reservoirs, overhead/ high level surface tanks, and collecting wells is a regular feature.

In PTI’s 2013-2018 tenure, school reforms, including modernisation of infrastructure, were a major priority. What is your government’s contribution to the enhancement of those reforms?

We have taken many steps since 2018: Continuous Professional Development Programme scaled up to all Settled Districts to address content knowledge and professional development deficiencies in all primary school teachers; elimination of Pre-Service Training; introduction of mandatory nine-month in-service teachers induction training programme; elevation of Provincial Institute for Teachers Education to Directorate of Professional Development; introduction of District Performance Scorecard/Intra-District Performance Scorecard; solarisation of more than 500 schools; initiation of solarisation of 8,000 schools in settled districts; 1,200 government schools in NMDs; standardisation of 402 higher secondary schools, 257 completed; Independent Monitoring Unit as Education Monitoring Authority for a robust data collection and monitoring system; three billion rupees given to all districts for purchase of school furniture, additional three billion to be allocated in 2022; introduction of Early Age Programming in 800 schools through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IT Board; and introduction of Digital Literacy Programme in government schools.

What steps have your government taken for improvement in the province’s literacy rate?

The Out-of-School Children census conducted in 2017 [during the previous PTI tenure] to gather data in all districts helped to reduce the percentage of out-of-school children and increase new enrolment.

The Accelerated Learning Programme has been initiated for older-age out-of-school children, and to provide basic education at primary and secondary levels. Curriculum and textual materials have been developed for primary (class 1-5) and elementary (class 6-8) schools. For ALP classes, programmes for development of item bank and assessment tools have been done. 380 ALP centres with enrolment of approximately 11,000 students have been established all over the province.

What is your government’s special programme to increase female enrolment in schools?

We have launched the Girls Stipend Programme for enrolment and retention of female students at government schools. In Settled Districts, we have 450,000 girl students annually, and 80 percent attendance in schools. We have initiated reformed GSP at Batagram and Lakki Marwat to incentivise age-appropriate enrolment and retention of about 29,000 girls in schools.

In the NMDs, a nine-month stipend is being given to 21,000 female students, class 6 to 10. Stipends of 3.7 billion rupees will be provided to girl and boy students in 2022.

A programme for double shift schools has been approved to increase access, especially for female students, to free and compulsory education. Community schools are being made to encourage students, mainly female, to continue their education amidst non-availability of primary schools in their areas of residence. Currently, 2,000 community schools (80,000 girls and 45,000 boys) are working in the province.

What measures have your government taken for the mitigation of a deep-rooted sense of deprivation in the south of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

Development of our southern region is one of our top priorities in the ADP for the next financial year. We have planned 628 projects worth 58 billion rupees; that is almost 31 percent of the total provincial financial ceiling of 187 billion rupees. The allocation comprehensively covers all major developmental sectors such as education, health, communication, agriculture, drinking water supply, industrial development, forestry, and governance.

Some of the other high impact projects for the southern districts are the 360-kilometre Peshawar-Dera Ismail Khan Motorway (approximate cost: 276 billion rupees; the Kohat Area Development Programme, covering the districts of Kohat, Hangu and Karak (approximate cost: 15 billion rupees) to cater to needs of agriculture, public health engineering, roads, health, education and irrigation; the Chashma Right Bank Canal project under CPEC in Dera Ismail Khan (cost: 120 billion rupees) to benefit the agriculture yield of the region.

What is the update on the mini and micro hydro projects?

Our government will successfully complete its mini and micro hydro projects by June this year. 332 mini hydropower projects are generating 30 MW of electricity and benefiting 140,000 people in the 12 northern districts. After this successful model, our government initiated the extension of the phase two of the project throughout the province. We have also signed a loan agreement worth $237 million with the Asian Development Bank for the provision of clean energy to the remote mountainous areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the construction of 672 mini and micro hydel stations on rivers, streams, and canals.

What steps have your government taken to strengthen the police reforms?

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the only province that has depoliticised police under the Police Act, 2017, giving complete operational and administrative autonomy to police. KP’s Provincial Police Officer is competent to transfer and post police officers up to the rank of Additional Inspector General. Operational and administrative matters are handled by police without any external hindrance or influence.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was a role model for provinces for its system of holding local government (LG) elections and empowerment of LG bodies. Do you plan to hold LG elections?

Since the expiration of the tenure of the local government in August 2019, our government has been in communication with the Election Commission of Pakistan to make arrangemnts for the next LG elections. In a cabinet meeting held on February 2, 2021, it was decided to hold the next LG elections in August 2021, barring the exigencies of COVID-19, and as a mark of respect for the scared month of Muharram. We hope to hold the election as per the announced schedule.

Learning from the experiences of the 2015-2019 elected LGs, several reforms have been introduced for a better and a stronger system: deepening devolution (functions of district government devolved to tehsil government); introduction of city LG in seven divisional HQRs; direct elections of chairman tehsil and city LGs; integration of VC/NC with tehsil council; rationalising composition of VC/NC; changes in institutional structure of PFC/LGC; continuation of allocation of 30 percent provincial ADP to LGs; and changes in the approval of budgets of local councils.

What are the steps that your government have taken for development of tourism in the province?

Promotion of tourism is greatly important to our government; the budgetary increase of 300 percent in the last three years supports this statement. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the staggering amount of 5.8 billion rupees has been allocated to the tourism sector in the current fiscal year.

The major focus is both on institutional strengthening and infrastructure development. The KP Culture and Tourism Authority is now operational as a specialised and dedicated tool for improvements and investments in the sector.

Three special-purpose authorities have been formed for Kalam, Kalash, and Kumrat with an allocation of 300 million rupees.

Various steps are in process for increasing the influx of tourism and for sustainable tourism: work on solid waste management in Galiyat, Kaghan, and Swat; Travel Responsibly for Enjoying Ecotourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in collaboration with Nestle and World Bank for control of pollution and creation of awareness of social responsibility; rescue stations for safety of tourists, and natural habitations from fire; prefabricated washrooms for facilitation of tourists.

Our tourism department has launched the first-ever project of its kind in Pakistan titled Camping Pods–well-furnished wooden cubicles to provide camping facilities to tourists. These eco-friendly prefab structures are not only great to enjoy the beauty of the sites but also help the local economy to generate its indigenous source of income.

Four camping villages have been established in Thandiani, Bishigram, Sheikhbadin, and Sharan. 13 virgin tourist sites have been identified, and pods will be installed there under a 250-million-rupee agreement with UNDP Pakistan.

For promotion of tourism for various sections of society, dozens of activities–cultural festivals, adventure tourism events, summer and winter tourism galas, an international skiing festival, and cultural carnivals–are regularly organised. This is something that has really paid off as in the last three years the influx of tourists has increased manifold.

Some archaeological sites for restoration of heritage and culture under different schemes have been resuscitated.

What are some of the key steps your government have taken to attract investment and enhance business opportunities?

Establishment of the Ease of Doing Business Cell was one of our top priorities. The Ease of Doing Business Facilitation Cell of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Board of Investment and Trade is formed to extend maximum facilitation to local and foreign investors and business community.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Official Business Portal is connected with federal and provincial stakeholders with the objective of digitalisation of various functions and activities for business facilitation. Manual processes such as the Online Building Map and Plan Approval system and online industrial plot application have been digitalised.

The cabinet has approved the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Industrial Policy, 2020, which focuses on revival and rehabilitation, growth, and competitiveness. Its agenda is revival of sick units; rehabilitation of infrastructure and allied facilities in existing industrial estates; establishment of Special Economic Zones and Small Industrial Estates; development of skilled human capital; financial and non-financial incentives; and credit schemes for SMEs.

KP’s first ever commerce and trade strategy has also been approved. The objective is to promote and facilitate commerce and trade activities through targeted market interventions, and integration of domestic commerce with regional and international supply chains.

Registration of firms is now online for facilitation of users. The process of issuance of property deeds and mutation services has been simplified and improved; 24 service delivery centres are operational in 18 districts. 120 small trades and businesses have been exempted from trade licence fee and inspections of TMAs.

Some other initiatives are reduction from 6 percent to 2 percent in the Land Registration Tax; abolition of Capital Value Tax; 19 categories exempted from Professional Tax upon registration with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Revenue Authority; reduction of Sales Tax on services for 25 categories from 15 percent to 2 percent; exemption of Local Council Tax on transfers of immovable property until June 30, 2021; exemption of registration fee on deeds and mutation until June 30, 2021.

Detail mapping and analyses of regulations covering business related registrations, licences, certificates, and other permits are in final stages for identification of elimination, simplification, and modernisation of regulations.

E-tendering for transparency was a PTI government’s promise. Has it been fulfilled?

E-tendering and e-bidding are among our most successful initiatives, saving us billions of rupees and ensuring utmost transparency in awarding civil works contracts. KP C&W, being the pioneer, has successfully launched this system, and trained more than 12 entities across Pakistan.

In the dark backdrop of the long and painful history of the gross state neglect and institutionalised unfairness meted to the erstwhile FATA, what is the update on your government’s Accelerated Implementation Programme (AIP) for the NMDs–Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, South Waziristan, North Waziristan?

To address the historical development lag of the NMDs and to bring about quick socioeconomic transformation, our government has approved the AIP, under which projects worth 232 billion rupees have been approved.

Implementation on 219 schemes has been initiated with principal focus on improvement in health services and education; construction of connectivity roads; construction of district and judicial complexes; extension and strengthening of police services; extension of rescue 1122 services, maximising opportunities for alternative livelihoods through agriculture and livestock interventions; providing clean drinking water facilities; addressing through electrification the power shortage issue; promotion of businesses through small grants; improving the irrigation network; and construction of major dams–Jabba, Bara, and Kurram Tangi.

Our government is also focused on engaging the young people of the NMDs in productive activities such as providing business grants, skill training, engagement in sports, and cultural interventions.

Promotion of tourism in the NMDs is another priority for which large amounts have been allocated.

Our government has also planned special initiatives for the welfare of minorities and other marginalised segments of society. So far, 58 billion rupees have been utilised.

Government’s announcement of the abolishment of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), jirga system and other obsolete and regressive colonial laws is yet to see fruition. What are the factors behind the delay?

After the constitutional amendment, all laws of the land have been extended to the ex-FATA districts. The old colonial regressive laws like the FCR have been repealed. However, a new system requires time to be fully operational and for people to be familiarised to the new norms. Though the courts are functional in all the districts, it will take time for people to adapt to the new system.

The erstwhile FATA is a land entrenched in centuries-old patriarchal ethos. What steps would your government take to guarantee safety of life, and fundamental and inheritance rights of women?

A partial answer lies in your question that the districts’ centuries-old patriarchal ethos is deeply entrenched in society and the power system. Our government has extended all relevant laws to the NMDs. Rest assured, all fundamental rights–safety of life and inheritance rights of women–have been constitutionally protected. Women can also invoke their rights through courts.

However, the issue of the compatibility of the old and new systems may prove to be a huge challenge to women empowerment. Our government has already extended the functions of social welfare and women empowerment department to the new districts. It is hoped that with awareness and the passage of time, women’s rights will be recognised by all segments of society.

At the end of PTI’s term in 2023, what would Chief Minister Mahmood Khan wish his legacy to be?

If you look closely, this term of PTI government, federal and in two provinces, has been massively hit by a financial crisis caused by the policies of our predecessors. Later, the aftermath multiplied due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The PTI government with its robust policies in health and finance have augmented Pakistan’s economy. Better healthcare is being guaranteed to our people despite Pakistan being a developing country. Amidst these crises, our Sehat Card Plus Programme, universal healthcare coverage, is for the entire province.

Our government legacy is our good governance. The legacy that I wish people to remember me for is that as chief minister I truly represent the mandate of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That they feel empowered to have a voice and an opinion. That my style of governance gives every citizen the right to question their government’s decisions to play a hands-on role in making Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the place they are proud to call their home.