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From idealism to pragmatism

July 06, 2003


PESHAWAR, July 5: Afr-asiab Khattak is an old campaigner. Both as a Pukhtun nationalist and chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, he has left his mark.

From the days when he was a student with extreme left ideals to the time when he joined mainstream politics and in between had to leave Pakistan to escape the witch-hunt of Gen Ziaul Haq, Khattak has seen the political landscape changing before his eyes.

So what is it that prompted him to join a party he had left over a decade ago? What is it that has changed in the ANP that has brought him back?

His decision to rejoin the ANP has surprised many political commentators. It has come at a time when the Pukhtun nationalist party is still licking the wounds inflicted by the defeat it suffered at the hands of the religious alliance.

Khattak had never been comfortable with Walibagh’s stranglehold over political matters both when he was a student leader and had to leave the Pukhtun Students Federation to form his own faction (Progressive) and later when he had to leave the ANP when it decided to enter into an alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League of Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Then together with Afzal Khan Lala, another Pukhtun nationalist, who couldn’t live with the ANP-PML alliance, Khattak formed the now defunct Qaumi Inquilabi Party. This party served as a platform for left, socialists and liberal elements. It too, however, did not last long and Khattak together with his friends and associates formed the Pukhtunkhwa Qaumi Party. This also split into two factions.

For many years, Afrasiab Khattak had remained a symbol of leftist politics in the NWFP, a kind of a centrifugal figure for all shades of leftist-progressive politics. Then came the phase when he became a human rights activist and saw himself elevated as first vice-chairman and later as chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. But he did not leave his political pursuits and continues to write on matters concerning Pukhtuns and Afghanistan. A respected name amongst Pukhtun intellectuals, he recently launched a new initiative called the National Democratic Consultative Process and unveiled a developmental framework, ‘Pukhtunkhwa.’

Looking at Khattak’s political journey, it appears to have been one going from idealism to pragmatism. For all its shortcomings, the ANP continues to be a force that represents a large segment of Pukhtun nationalists. He is due to step down as chairman of HRCP in October and his decision to join the ANP apparently has come keeping that in mind.

His rejoining the ANP has given the party a shot in the arm and helped boost its sagging morale. But whether he will survive in the rather suffocating political environment in the party is something that is to be seen.

The ANP, sadly, has not learnt from its political mistakes. An introspection about the causes which led to its worst-ever political defeat at the hands of the MMA did not come. Instead of analyzing the reasons which caused its fall from grace, the ANP looked around for punching-bags. No debates took place, and those who were at the helm of the party when it lost are back in the game again.

Admittedly, Pukthuns on both sides of the Durand Line are faced with a leadership crisis. Pukthun nationalists are divided in parties and splinter groups. Despite an established vote bank, the ANP has been searching for a role for itself. From it’s over a decade-long alliance with the PML-N to its support to the Musharraf regime and its present predicament vis-a-vis the MMA, the ANP has been directionless.

Critics scoff at the party for having compromised on its political principles for the sake of NAB-convicted and absconding former federal minister Mohammad Azam Khan Hoti.

There were times when the ANP served as a platform for enlightened and progressive intellectuals. That has become a thing of the past. It is facing desertion. Bashir Khan Matta, a respected name in intellectual circles and the ANP’s secretary for foreign affairs, has left the party to join the PMAP. His charge: the party’s goals are not clear.

So now that Khattak has rejoined the ANP, he may find that there has been little change in the party since his last exit. No doubt, there are challenges ahead for him. Can he find a firm footing for himself and stick his neck out in the given circumstances and help steer the party toward a clearer goal?