The ANP on its part has not only energised its ideological base but has also given the rest of Pakistan a fair warning of what is coming their way
The Awami National Party (ANP) has
come under a series of terrorist attacks in the last two weeks. The terror spree started with a bomb attack in Peshawar on the party’s former provincial minister Arbab Ayub Jan, who narrowly escaped. The ANP leader from Swat, Mukkaram Shah, was not that fortunate. He was assassinated in an improvised explosive device attack. And then came the carnage in Peshawar city last week when a suicide bomber targeted the ANP leaders Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and his nephew Haroon Bilour, whose father Bashir Bilour was martyred in a similar attack in December 2012, as they were about to address an election rally. Fortunately, Haji sahib and Haroon survived the attack in which several policemen, party workers and young children died. But the ANP cadres and leaders did not buckle. The Pashtun nationalist party did not cave in ideologically or politically. The fearless Mian Iftikhar Hussain rushed to the tragic scene. Along with the late Bashir Bilour, he has been the ANP’s first-responder to many such bombings, charging in when others would flee. A knee jerk response might have been to call for boycotting the elections; Mian Iftikhar cautioned against delaying the elections even by a second. Similarly, unflinching statements came from the ANP’s senior leadership including the party chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan.
But a flurry of callous remarks and loose talk by the rightwing political parties, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), blamed the ANP — the victim — for bringing it upon itself. While Nawaz Sharif has kept mum about Taliban terrorism, the PTI chief Imran Khan has reiterated that the terrorists target the parties that sided with the US in the War on Terror (WoT). Khan is also a candidate from the Peshawar National Assembly constituency where scores perished in the explosion that targeted his opponent Haji Bilour. If the ANP is being targeted for going after the terrorists, are Khan and his ilk safe because they sided with the terrorists and provided the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ideological space for over a decade portraying them as ‘nationalist freedom fighters’? Frankly, Khan’s slurs linking attacks on the ANP to the WoT are an insult to the Peshawarites who lost children and loved ones and whose vote he seeks. Another poisonous remark came from Maulana Fazlur Rehman who called the ANP a dead snake that has become politically irrelevant.
Notwithstanding the disingenuousness and hate of the anti-ANP elements, they go to show that the elections, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at least, would not be decided on the basis of the ANP’s performance as the outgoing ruling party but its stance vis-à-vis the Taliban terrorists. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the bullet not the ballot may be the deciding factor. While the terrorists have failed to confine the ANP candidates and cadres to their homes, the latter continue canvassing door-to-door, imperilling their lives. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the provincial and federal caretaker governments are nowhere to be seen as if in a sinister coincidence. If anything the ECP had ordered the candidates’ security removed but later denied issuing such a directive. The relentless Taliban assault on the ANP, complete inaction of the present authorities and the Taliban apologists like Khan and Rehman going into overdrive is making the elections a lopsided affair. Cornering the ANP this way may not technically be pre-poll fraud but has most certainly rigged the scales against it. It appears that the stage is being set to either keep the ANP out of the future assemblies or worse, delay the polls to have a political dispensation ideologically aligned with the Pakistani deep state as the latter gets ready to play its final hand in Afghanistan post-2014.
The Pakistani security establishment has claimed for some time that it desires peace in Afghanistan but not many are buying it. In his opening statement at the US Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing with General Joseph Dunford on the Situation in Afghanistan, the committee chair US Senator Carl Levin said last week that “the greatest challenge to Afghanistan’s security isn’t the Taliban but the Pakistan-based sanctuaries for militant extremists launching cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan has said that it supports a stable and secure Afghanistan, but its actions belie its words.” General Dunford, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his testimony reiterated, “There have been intelligence reports that link the ISI particularly to the Haqqani network.” What was not mentioned at this testimony but is well known is that the TTP continues to use the logistic and training facilities run by the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. Of note is that several Pakistani analysts and the so-called foreign policy elite nominally condemned the attacks on ANP but for years have vociferously advocated a greater future role in Afghanistan for the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
The Pakistani establishment getting its ducks in a row before a major showdown in Afghanistan is not without precedent. At the height of its proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Pakistani deep state created a pliant party-less parliament in 1985. Benazir Bhutto was considered too ‘unreliable’ to be allowed at the helm in the post-Soviet withdrawal period and was shown the door in 1990 to bring in a then military-friendly Nawaz Sharif. The religious parties conglomerate, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, whose acronym MMA was dubbed ‘military-mullah alliance’ by many, was eased into power in 2002 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to provide an irritant-free sanctuary to the Taliban in the post-2001 period. The results of all these maneouvres have been utterly disastrous for the Pakistani people, especially the Pashtuns. But it seems that the deep state continues with its policy of using the Pashtun lands as a buffer zone and the Pashtuns as a sandbag against the monsters it unleashes in Afghanistan.
The ANP on its part has not only energised its ideological base but has also given the rest of Pakistan a fair warning of what is coming their way. Unfortunately, barring the MQM’s Altaf Hussain and some muffled voices from the PPP, not many have heeded the ANP’s call. The beleaguered ANP has revived a slogan from the PDPA’s final phase in Afghanistan: Watan Ya Kafan (Fatherland or death/shroud). This defiant note also has a certain resignation in it that makes me deeply worried. But I also know that the death that was rained on Kabul in 1992 did not stop there and it won’t stop with Peshawar, something the Pakistani heartland does not realise yet.