January Issue 2003
Interview: Akram Khan Durrani
“Now the central government and the USA will have to review their policies”
– Akram Khan Durrani, Chief Minister, NWFP
Akram Khan Durrani was elected the 18th chief minister of the NWFP after the landslide victory of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the October 10 general election. A member and candidate of Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam (JUI-F), the party that had won the largest number of seats in the coaliton, Akram Durrani came to prominence in a house dominated by new faces as the MMA component parties accepted him as their leader.
Akram Durrani is the second Frontier chief minister who belongs to JUI-F. The first was Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s father, Maulana Mufti Mehmood, who ruled the province as head of a coalition government in 1970. The National Awami Party (NAP), later re-christened the Awami National Party (ANP), was an ally of the JUI, now called JUI-F. Durrani heads a six-party religious coalition government that contested the elections under the MMA banner.
Before the election, MMA leaders, particularly those from the JUI-F, fearlessly opposed the US attacks on Afghanistan and also agitated against the Pakistan government’s support to Washington and won the people’s approval in the polls. However, after MMA’s unexpected victory in the strategically located Frontier province, Akram Durrani appears uncharacteristically cautious and guarded in this interview with Newsline.
Q: What is your top priority as chief minister of the NWFP?
A: The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal has a programme for the country and the people voted it to power in the Frontier for its manifesto. The primary agenda, if the MMA’s voted to power, was that it would impose Islam in the country. As it stands now, we are in the opposition and not the majority in the centre. However, in the Frontier we are in majority and have formed our government. There is an institution in this country called the Council of Islamic Ideology. This council, in which every party and school of thought is represented, has finalised its recommendations. We will try to introduce those sections and clauses of the report of the Council of Islamic Ideology which comes under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
Q: What problems do people face in the Frontier, and what issues are you going to address?
A: We will work towards improving the law and order situation and make efforts to create a sense of security among our people. It is the responsibility of every government to give protection to its people and ensure peace and security in the country.
Unemployment is another serious problem that we want to address. If we are to eradicate unemployment, we will have to promote industrialisation. There is no other option. Industrialists need an improvement in the law and order situation, and we will ensure peace and security. We intend to form a joint committee comprising politicians and industrialists to work out recommendations for the promotion of industrialisation. We will look into giving incentives to entrepreneurs for investment in poverty-stricken districts to help overcome unemployment in these deprived areas.
Another sector is health services, which needs immediate attention. We have certain districts which have little or no health facilities, particularly in the southern districts. There is not a single proper hospital in the southern belt. Similarly, Kohistan and Dir have got their own problems. We will try to provide at least basic health and education facilities in these areas even if we cannot bring them at par with those districts where comparatively better services are available.
Roads in most areas of the province are in ruins. It is true that certain areas have better roads and it gives us pleasure that our capital, Peshawar, has good roads because people from other provinces and from across the globe visit this city. However, the situation is not that good in other areas. The southern districts and underdeveloped areas lack this facility. It is the duty of the government to build roads and improve means of communication.
Many areas lack potable water. There are areas where the people, including the women carry water at night and early in the morning in vessels on their heads from miles away. We will try to provide potable water to every village and house in these areas.
Educational facilities are available in most areas. We will try to establish colleges and universities in those districts which are underprivileged, underdeveloped in education, and give ethics-based education to our new generation and tackle obscenity, if there is any, in a gentle and kind way. Everything is not achieved by use of force.
Q: You mentioned ethics-based education. There have been voices in the Majlis-e-Amal against co-education. How are you going to treat co-education in the province?
A: There is no co-education at lower levels in our province. We have it only at the university level, and at this level one is mature enough to take care of one’s behaviour. We have seen in the university that there has seldom been any indecent incident. One can object to co-education at the lower levels where one is too immature and young, but we don’t have it in our province at this stage. This is a province of Pakhtuns who hold their values and traditions in high esteem. Everybody, both male and female, is sensitive about these values and tends to protect the honour and dignity of his family, mother and father. Still, provided enough resources, having separate education facilities for males and females is not a bad idea. However, our first priority is to provide education to the disadvantaged and underdeveloped areas.
Q: The PML-Q will try to implement its own agenda in the Frontier, which is, in many instances, at variance with that of the MMA . How will you be able to run the government efficiently in the Frontier if the centre’s policies are in conflict with those of your government?
A: We will always try to have cordial relations with the centre. Our province has certain rights but they mostly come from the centre. Good relations with the federal government will benefit our province and help us take steps for its development. Prime Minister Mir Zafrullah Jamali comes from a neglected province and he will look at Balochistan in that way. The Frontier is similarly disadvantaged, and I hope he will not ignore this fact.
Besides, another advantage that our government has is that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal leadership also belongs to the Frontier. If the PML-Q government treads the path of the previous governments and denies our province its just rights, the MMA has a powerful opposition in the centre [which will react]. Maulana Fazlur Rahman Sahib has said that had Jamali Sahib been short of a single vote, he would have been unable to become the Prime Minister. He has assured full cooperation to the Prime Minister for the sake of democracy and the country. If the federal government wants this cooperation to continue, it will have to keep good relations with our provincial government. I hope we will have better relations with the centre than any other government has had.
Q: The component parties of the MMA have been campaigning against the US attack on Kabul, its operation against the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Islamabad’s support to Washington. The PML-Q government has announced its intention to continue the policies of the military regime. How will you react if the US continues its operation against the Al-Qaeda in the NWFP, with the help of the federal government?
A: The main reason for the victory of the MMA in the general election, was its opposition to the flawed American policy in our country. Now the central government and the USA will have to review their policies and respect the mandate that the people have given the MMA. By casting votes for the MMA, the masses have rejected the central government’s policy to allow Washington’s interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
The US, which believes in democracy, will have to show respect for the verdict of the people. We have no enmity with them if they change their policies. If the US shows no respect for the people’s mandate we will have to conclude that Washington does not believe in democracy. We have heard that the US forces have pulled back from Karachi. God willing, they will have to change their policy and stop interfering in our affairs.
Q: Let’s assume for a moment that they do not change their policies. What will the NWFP government’s response be under your chief ministership?
A: Ours is an independent country. We aspire for a respectable, independent life. We would not like to live in this country under threat and coercion. We can have friendly relations with others. It is our belief that defending this country is in the blood of every Pakistani. There is nobody in this country who does not rejoice in the independence and dignity of this country. We will always remain faithful to Pakistan. How can we be disloyal to this country, and particularly to this province, which has voted ordinary people like us to power? We will never compromise on the security and integrity of Pakistan.
Q: Many workers of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) feel threatened with the MMA’s victory in the NWFP. They think that the clergy-led attacks on NGOs will increase. Will you allow NGOs to work unhindered, or ask them to close down?
A: We have never objected to the constructive work of NGOs. There are even Islamic NGOs which are involved in constructing mosques and universities. What we oppose, are those activities of NGOs which are against our culture and religion. Beside the ulema, ordinary people are also against this. We will check those activities which interfere in our culture and go against our religion. The NGOs should inform the provincial government about their programmes and activities and work with the government’s permission. Nobody is allowed to come from abroad and start doing whatever they want to do in this province. Everybody is welcome to come and play a constructive role, and the provincial government will always grant permission for this purpose.
Q: Some MMA leaders have been very vocal about what they deem obscenity. What measures do you intend to initiate in this regard?
A: We are a democratic people and a product of the democratic process. There is a censor board to curb obscenity in accordance with the country’s constitution. If we could effect changes through legislation, we will do that. Rather than my party workers intervening, the government machinery will have to implement the law. The implementing agencies are there and they will be asked to focus on their job.