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A mercurial politician

May 06, 2013

Khwaja Muhammad Khan Hoti. — Illustration by Michelle Farooqi

Nawabzada Khwaja Mohammad Khan Hoti is a mercurial politician. His political mood swings are probably as unpredictable as the weather forecast by Pakistani weather pundits.

In his native Mardan, he is known as Tothi Khan — Tothi in Pushto meaning parrot — and also, more affectionately, Khwaja Khan. A scion of the landed gentry, he is probably one of the few politicians who is known to have blown away his property to pursue politics. Launching his political career in 1979, Khwaja Khan took part for the first time in party-less local bodies’ elections in the country as an independent candidate and defeated his rival by a wide margin.

A few years later, he joined the Pakistan Peoples Party and in 1988 contested elections for a provincial assembly seat against the Pakistan Muslim League-backed candidate, former governor retired Lt Gen Fazal-i-Haq — also from Mardan — and defeated him.

After winning the elections, Khwaja Khan served as special adviser to the then chief minister of the province then known as the NWFP, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, till the dismissal of the PPP government only 18 months into its tenure. Contesting again on the PPP ticket in the 1990 general elections, against sugar baron and wealthy PML candidate, the late Mir Afzal Khan, Khwaja Khan lost. However, he won the subsequent elections in 1993 against the PML’s Saranjam Khan and became the NWFP’s education minister.

His political fortunes dwindled soon afterwards and he was defeated by the PML’s Syed Manzoor Hussain Bacha in 1996. He served as general secretary in the NWFP when Mr Sherpao ruled the roost in the PPP but then their relationship proved short-lived; just when Sherpao had fallen out with Benazir Bhutto, Khwaja Khan maneuvered to replace him in 1997.

Gen Pervez Musharraf’s coup saw many a politician opting to lie low, and so did Khwaja Khan. This was soon to prompt his rivals within the PPP to accuse him of ‘being in touch’ with the then ISI supremo, Gen Ihsanul Haq — also from Mardan. This, and local political rivalries with another PPP leader, led to Khwaja Khan’s departure from the PPP in 2004.

In the 2002 elections, Khwaja Khan fielded his 24-year-old son, Nawabzada Umar Farooq Khan, from two provincial constituencies. Umar lost them both to candidates of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

Having remained in the political wilderness for some time, Khwaja Khan joined the Awami National Party, was elected MNA in 2008 and was made a federal minister for social welfare. But turf politics and the desire to control Mardan soon pitched him against two other Hotis in his native Mardan, chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and his father, Azam Khan Hoti. Khwaja Khan launched a vicious campaign against the father and the son, accusing them of corruption and of having sold out, without quitting the ANP.

Impressed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Lahore rally, on his son’s prodding Khwaja Khan quit the National Assembly and joined Imran Khan in December 2011. But not comfortable with what he used to call an “SMS-party”, he quit the PTI soon afterwards, met with the Sharifs and was soon seen wearing a green cap at a public meeting in Mardan.

As Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidates, he and his son are contesting from NA-9 and PK-23 to face the ANP’s Ameer Haider Khan Hoti in what promises to be a very interesting contest.