January issue 2016
Staging a Comeback
The Awami National Party (ANP) has re-emerged in Karachi with its participation in the recent local government elections, even though it made few gains. The party’s recent past has been extremely turbulent — first, there were constant violent clashes with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which was followed by the entry of a more deadly enemy, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and fellow extremist group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Violence in the city rose to dangerous levels and both the erstwhile rivals, ANP and MQM, faced a series of lethal attacks on their offices and political gatherings in which their supporters, workers and office-bearers were killed. While the ANP lost three of its district presidents and dozens of workers in TTP attacks, the MQM lost three lawmakers and dozens of workers and activists at the hands of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, most of them in the same district of West Karachi. But neither of the two rivals was willing to point at the obvious enemy and instead blamed each other.
“These are contract killers, hired by a particular political party of Karachi; the TTP has nothing to do with it,” said Bashir Jan, ANP’s provincial general secretary, when I first visited Bacha Khan Markaz, the provincial head office of the ANP and the hub of its political activities, in 2012. Those were heady times. Bacha Khan Markaz, located in Banaras Chowk, and its surrounding areas were splashed with red graffiti and sported flags of the party. What’s more, the doors of the provincial office were always open.
Then came a time when ANP had to take the flags down and close their offices for an indefinite period owing to violent militant attacks and threats to their workers. The party laments the fact that it was left at the mercy of militants and forced to stop its political activities at the grassroots level. The ANP was routed in the general elections in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi, where it had previously won two provincial seats, PS-93 and PS-128. In PS-93, it was defeated by the PTI and in PS-128, replaced by the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) where its Karachi chief, Aurangzeb Farooqi — had a head-on contest with the MQM, while the ANP stood nowhere. The ANP had suffered bomb attacks on its office and rallies in both these constituencies.
“It was such a frustrating situation; we had shut down our offices and taken down our flags to protect our people from being attacked and killed by the militants. If Bashir Jan had refused to name the TTP in his interview with you then, it might have been for the safety of his workers and supporters,” says a close aide of Bashir Jan. “He himself had been attacked more than once, and the first attack on him was by an MQM worker. The attacker was arrested and had confessed to his involvement in the attack. The other two attempts on his life, made during his election campaign in 2013, were by the TTP and they claimed it.”
Bashir Jan had to move to the United States out of fear. He was replaced by former district president Younas Buneri, who stepped in as provincial general secretary.
On December 16, ANP Sindh held a Quran khwani and an event at Bacha Khan Markaz to commemorate the first anniversary of the Army Public School attack. This was the first public event held at the Markaz after it re-opened this year, after a hiatus of almost two years.
“Prior to this, some meetings of the office bearers were held to plan the observance of May 12 [as a black day] and discuss ANP’s strategy in the local government elections. However, this was the first event in which workers and supporters have participated,” says Tahir Buneri, a member of ANP’s district council.
Flags of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who were contesting the polls in an alliance, hung in the areas surrounding the office but there were none from the ANP, except for a tattered flag on the roof of the office.
Policemen had been deployed for security at the main gate but they didn’t stop or check me when I entered.
The event was in full swing. Many of the party leaders, including Aurangzeb Khan, the acting president of Sindh in the absence of Senator Shahi Syed, Rana Gul Afridi, member central committee ANP, and Younas Buneri, the provincial general secretary, addressed the gathering of workers and supporters. But, for now, questions remain over whether the party is ready to make a full comeback.
Interview: Younas Buneri, General Secretary, ANP Sindh
The law and order situation has improved, and no attack against the ANP has occurred in recent months. How worried are you about the possibility of violence being used against you in the elections?
Despite normalisation in the city, the state of fear remains, and our candidates were reluctant to go into the elections using the party symbol of laltain.
A union council seat was won by one of our diehard workers, Nabi Sarwar, against a candidate of the PPP and JUI-F alliance. But he fought as an independent candidate and was assigned the symbol of a dhol. In the rest of Karachi, from Baldia to Korangi, most of our candidates had alliances with other parties and adopted their symbols such as in the Bawani Chali union council, where we had an alliance with the JUI-F and won. Perhaps the only one who won on our party symbol was Alamzeb Alaai from UC-25 Orangi Town, where he had an alliance with the JUI-F and PPP against an unofficial alliance of the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and MQM, who were contesting as independent candidates.
Do the results of the local government elections show that the ANP has re-emerged as a force in Karachi?
It is heartening to see that despite contesting as independents, our candidates managed to draw support. There are many union councils where they have garnered thousands of votes, and lost by small margins.
Who does the ANP blame for its decline in Karachi?
Let me state unequivocally that our politics were ravaged by the PPP more than anyone else. They never showed any sincerity towards us during those years, when we had an alliance with them at the centre and in three provinces. In Sindh, we had very little representation. They handed the labour ministry to our elected representative, Ameer Nawab, but the secretary was appointed by them. Consequently, the powers remained with the chief minister. Nawab was not in a position to offer jobs or other benefits to party supporters.
When the schedule of local government elections was announced, the PPP Karachi president, Najmi Alam, and general secretary, Nadeem Bhutto, visited us to discuss the possibility of an alliance across the city. We asked them to consult their district and town-based organisations first, who do not follow their directives. Consequently the alliance did not materialise and local party officials had to go with the party of their choice.
They kept demanding key positions even in those union councils where we had previously won or had a strong support base, and following our refusal, they went in for an alliance with other parties like JUI-F and JI.
The ANP leadership claims that there are four million Pashtuns in the city and many researchers have estimated that they constitute 22 to 25 per cent of the city population, which is estimated to be around 20 million. If that is indeed the case, why don’t these figures translate into electoral representation?
It is not a claim made by the party alone; it is backed by independent research. The truth of the matter is that Pashtun settlers in Karachi are beset by several problems which hinder the translation of these numbers into political representation. The first problem is related to the electoral rolls based on the data of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). Most of the Pashtuns have cited their addresses in Karachi as the present address and those in their village and home towns as permanent address. Consequently, the electoral rolls have registered them as voters from their permanent addresses. Several times we have requested that the Pashtun voter’s present address be considered in the electoral rolls but that has not happened as yet. The second problem relates to Pashtun women, who do not have ID cards, are mostly illiterate, and are not encouraged to go out and cast their vote. The third problem with the Pashtun vote is its comparative openness to all sorts of religious and political narratives.
How do you view PTI’s politics in Karachi? Haven’t they replaced you as a party with the support of Pashtuns, to pose a challenge to the MQM?
Imran Khan held his rallies, processions and public meetings at Paharganj, Dawood Chowrangi and Sultanabad, all of them Pashtun localities. He did not hold a single event in Korangi, North Nazimabad, Landhi and Lalukhet. He enjoys support in these areas as well, but his supporters in these communities do not have the courage to stand up to the MQM.
The dictatorial regimes of Zia-ul-Haq and then Pervez Musharraf favoured a certain party of their choice for their own ends. They have always attempted to dilute the Pashtun vote by dividing these localities in such a way that their numbers did not impact the results.
But for the recent local government elections, the whole delimitation exercise was led by the PPP, the ANP’s former ally?
That is why I said that our politics were ravaged by the PPP more than anyone else. Even the PPP does not want us to reclaim our localities. They have conceded most of the city to the MQM and now, more recently, to the PTI and PML-N. They enjoy some support among the Pashtuns and the Baloch, and they do not want to lose it.
Are you satisfied with the ongoing operation against terrorists, target killers and extortionists?
Yes, but while I support the law enforcement agencies’ operation, I am extremely concerned about those that have been picked up by the LEAs for their alleged links with militants.
Many Pashtun traders and businessmen, who faced extortion threats from militants and had to pay in order to save their lives and their businesses from TTP attacks, were subsequently picked up by the Police and Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officials, who accused them of helping the militants and demanded huge amounts to get them released. Thelaw enforcement agencies need to differentiate between the culprits and the victims.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order