May Issue 2013
A Lantern in the Dark
The Awami National Party traces its roots to the non-violent colonial resistance movement of Pakhtun nationalist leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, better known simply as Bacha Khan. As such, it remains popular with Pakhtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as well as those who have migrated to Karachi. The ANP’s strongholds in KP remain Peshawar, Swabi, Nowshera and Charsadda.
A secular, left-leaning party, ANP rose from the ashes of the socialist National Awami Party (NAP) formed in the 1950s and led by the Bengali socialist leader, Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani. NAP later split into two factions, with Khan Abdul Wali Khan – son of Bacha Khan – leading the Moscow bloc. The party contested the 1970s elections under a short-lived coalition with PPP, but was later banned by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself. Wali Khan and Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo were sent to jail on charges of treason.
The ANP was formed in 1986 with a merger of different leftist parties and, although it has branched out and managed to win over voters from Sindh and Balochistan as well, it has retained the Pakhtun nationalism of its founding father. Wali Khan’s eldest son, Asfandyar Wali, has been the party head since 1999, briefly losing his position to Ehsan Wyne from 2002-2003 in ANP’s intra-party elections
Despite its secularism, ANP has occasionally formed coalitions with religious parties namely the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1988 and the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in 1997. Also, only a few months prior to the 2013 elections, many ANP members have left their party in favour of the JI, indicating that ideology is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of individual opportunism.
In the 2002 National Assembly elections, ANP lost to the major religious party coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). However, the MMA failed to impress the public during its tenure. It was voted out in favour of the ANP in the 2008 general elections, with ANP winning 48 seats from KP and MMA/JUI-F a mere 14.
However, it remains to be seen whether the troubled province will give the party a similar show of support in the coming elections. The ANP is marred with allegations of corruption, in particular against Asfandyar Wali Khan, who has also been criticised for living abroad since 2008 after an attack on his life. And with militancy and counter-militancy operations taking place from Swat to Tirah Valley, no other province has been plagued with so much violence and insecurity. ANP claims to have lost over 700 of its workers in the past few years, including the prominent Bashir Bilour in 2012. And just in April this year, Bashir’s brother Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour narrowly escaped a Taliban attack in Charsadda with minor injuries. His driver and 24 others were not so fortunate. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan later stated in a telephonic statement, “We apologise to Ghulam Bilour because we announced an amnesty for him. Our target was (Bashir Bilour’s son) Haroon Bilour.” Ghulam Bilour, contrary to ANP’s secular ideology, had previously made public statements about paying a hefty sum to anyone who killed the director of an anti-Islam film.
With ANP’s increasingly dominant presence in Karachi, the Taliban (the newly emerging force in the city) have gone as far as to attack ANP workers in Karachi. On March 13, the Taliban attacked and killed Abdur Rasheed, a school principal and ANP supporter from Swat, who had settled in Karachi. This was followed with more devestating attacks on ANP offices.
Add to this the party’s constant battles with the MQM over political turf, as Karachi’s demographics change.
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.