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The first left

November 09, 2014

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Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Even though parties such as the Communist Party of Pakistan, Azad Pakistan Party and Ganatantri Dal preceded the National Awami Party (NAP) in Pakistan’s early leftist landscape, the NAP eventually emerged as being the country’s first major leftist political outfit — a decade or so before the rise of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the late 1960s.

Formed in 1957, the NAP included noted Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Bengali nationalist thinkers and politicians. Its founding members included former Muslim League member and socialist, Mian Iftikharuddin; Sindhi scholar and nationalist, G.M. Syed; Pashtun nationalist and ideologue, Bacha Khan; Pashtun nationalist Abdul Samad Achakzai; Bengali leftist leader Maulana Bhashani; and Baloch nationalist, Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo.

A number of intellectuals also joined the party, including popular Urdu poet and activist, Habib Jalib.

The party described itself as a socialist-democratic party working towards achieving democratic reforms and greater autonomy for the country’s non-Punjabi and non-Mohajir populations. But NAP’s membership included Mohajir and Punjabi activists as well who were once associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) that was banned in 1951.


NAP metamorphosed to become the present-day ANP after over half a century of political twists and turns


The NAP was radically opposed to the ‘One Unit’ — a state-backed initiative that had clumped together all of West Pakistan as one province (allegedly to neutralise the Bengali majority in East Pakistan).

When the 1956 Constitution promised to hold Pakistan’s first ever direct election based on universal adult franchise (in 1958), the NAP was poised to bag the most seats.

The other two major parties of the era, the centre-right Muslim League and the centrist Republican Party, were both besieged by infighting, whereas religious parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) did not have a significant electoral pull at the time. The NAP stood out to be the most organised populist political outfit in the country.

However, the promised elections never took place. Field Martial Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law through a military coup in 1958 and banned all political parties. Most NAP leaders were arrested and put behind bars.

They were released from jail when Ayub lifted the ban on political parties and authored a new constitution in 1962.

NAP returned to agitate for provincial autonomy and the removal of the One Unit. It also demanded the holding of direct elections and the adoption of an independent and non-allied foreign policy in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, as the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US intensified (Pakistan had placed itself in the ‘US camp’), so did the nature of a growing hostility between the time’s two communist powers, the Soviet Union and China. This saw various leftist parties of the world experience splits within their ranks.

But in spite of the fact that pro-China (Maoist) and pro-Soviet factions had also emerged in NAP, the party largely remained intact.

Nevertheless, when the Ayub regime’s foreign policy began to tilt a bit towards China, NAP leader, Maulana Bhashani, a pro-China figurehead, insisted that NAP should support Ayub.

So, though on the surface NAP remained to be a united front, beneath the veneer its leaders had begun to disagree on the question of supporting Ayub.

When Ayub set out to compete with Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 Presidential election, the Bhashani faction of NAP indirectly supported him whereas the Wali Khan faction opposed Ayub and backed Fatima Jinnah. Ayub won the election and soon went to war with India.

The1965 Pakistan-India war ended in a stalemate and Ayub agreed to a ceasefire agreement with India. Ayub’s young Foreign Minister, Z.A. Bhutto (the initial architect of Pak-China relations), accused Ayub of ‘losing the war on the negotiating table’.

Bhutto’s passionate and animated antics in this respect were hailed by leftist student groups and (after he was ousted from the government by Ayub), he gallivanted towards finding a position for himself in the NAP.

But since the NAP was already packed with veteran leftist and ethnic-nationalist figureheads, Bhutto decided to form his own quasi-socialist party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Finally in 1967 (the year the PPP was formed) the split in NAP became an open secret. During its on-going analysis on how to achieve a socialist revolution in Pakistan, the NAP leadership failed to enact an internal consensus on the issue.

The pro-Soviet faction (led by Wali Khan), suggested working to put Pakistan on a democratic path and then move towards achieving the party’s goals of provincial autonomy and socialism.

The pro-China faction led by Bhashani rejected democracy and labelled it as a tool of the bourgeoisie. Bhashani instead advocated that the party should ally and work with peasant groups to initiate revolutionary land reforms.

The pro-Soviet NAP became NAP-Wali and the pro-China faction became NAP-Bhashani.

The largest student party at the time, the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF) that had become the student-wing of NAP also suffered a split. The majority of NSF groups took the pro-China / Maoist line.

Most of these however began to associate themselves more with the politics of the newly-formed PPP, rather than with NAP-Bhashani.

Two new student groups, Pakhtun Students Federation (PkSF), and Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) — both formed in 1968 — came under the umbrella of NAP-Wali.

It was NAP-Wali that became the bigger faction, mainly due to the fact that the party’s main Pakhtun, Baloch and Sindhi leadership had decided to join the Wali faction.

NAP-Wali took part in the 1968 anti-Ayub movement (with the PPP). The same year, a small, radical faction broke away from NAP-Wali to form the Mazdoor-Kissan Party (MKP).

The MKP advocated a socialist revolution by organising peasant uprisings in the rural areas of Pakistan.

The NAP-Wali participated in Pakistan’s first ever election based on adult franchise (in 1970). It won the largest number of seats in Balochistan and its performance in the NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) was also impressive. It was able to form coalition (provincial) governments in both the provinces.

Bhutto’s PPP swept the polls in the Punjab and Sindh and (after the separation of East Pakistan in 1971) the PPP became the country’s new ruling party.

In 1973 the Bhutto regime accused the NAP government in Balochistan of backing the (allegedly) Soviet-backed Baloch separatists. He then dismissed the Balochistan government and imposed Governor’s Rule there.

Three years later in 1975 the PPP’s NWFP President, Hayyat Sherpao, was killed in a bomb blast at the Peshawar University. The Bhutto regime accused the NAP of the assassination and banned the party (through a court order), thus ending the largest single political gathering of prominent left-wing Baloch, Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalists and communists in Pakistan.

The NAP was revived in 1978 as the National Democratic Party (NDP) but this withered away in 1982 during the Gen Zia dictatorship. In 1986 NAP returned, this time as the Awami National Party (ANP) that was headed by Wali Khan.

However, within a year, the ANP’s Baloch and Sindhi leadership broke away, leaving the ANP to become an entirely Pakhtun nationalist party which survives till this day and is currently being headed by Wali’s son, Asfandyar Wali.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 9th, 2014