The Pashtun leader
by Ali Arqam
Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s support base is concentrated in the Pashtun districts of Balochistan and scattered across the Pashtun region in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including the recently merged Fata.
PkMAP enthusiasts revere Achakzai, refer to him as mashar (Pashto for ‘elder’ or ‘leader’), and the party revolves around his personality.
The enthusiasts — who are referred to as muridaan, a word used for the devotees of a sufi clan — follow and defend every word and action of his, his kin and others close to him.
This reverence has its flip side: if anyone ever ends up in the bad books of the mashar, as has happened with few of the party’s second tier leaders, they are accused of betrayal.
This has caused a rift in the party, which was further intensified when Achakzai’s elder brother, Muhammad Khan, was cherry-picked for the office of governor of Balochistan, and his younger brother, Hamid Khan, was given the provincial portfolio of planning and development.
On the electoral front, PkMAP’s popular support predicated on the demands of Pashtun rights in Balochistan — such as, a share for Pashtuns in resources and jobs on par with the Baloch, sometimes going as far as engaging in the rhetoric of demanding a separate Pashtun province carved out of Pashtun-heavy regions of Balochistan.
While Achakzai’s charisma may get his party a handful of constituencies, PkMAP will face strong opposition from JUI-F, powerful electables, the Pashtun tribal elite, as well as their decades-old foe, the ANP.
Achakzai opposed the merger of Fata with KP and was widely criticised for his position along with the only other vocal opponent of the union Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The PkMAP leader from Balochistan has previously suggested that Fata should be governed either by a governor or a council that should be elected through adult franchise.
Achakzai has also vocally opposed and expressed his reservations against the Kalabagh Dam project. Calling it an anti-Pakhtun and undemocratic project, Achakzai says if the Kalabagh dam is built, it would harm the people of small federating units “for the progress of the big brother”.
The Pakhtun leader has demonstrated a soft corner for Afghan refugees and became a centre of controversy when he remarked that KP belongs to Afghans and he would not allow anyone to harass refugees that have come from Afghanistan.
“If Afghans are harassed in other parts of Pakistan, they should come here to the Pakhtunkhwa province, where no one can ask them for refugee cards, because it also belongs to them,” Achakzai had said in an interview published in an Afghanistan-based publication.
The PkMAP leader also supported Nawaz Sharif during the 2014 dharna and advised Imran Khan to focus on improving governance in KP as opposed to holding rallies against alleged rigging. Around the time, Achakzai also urged then premier Nawaz and then COAS Raheel Sharif “to patch up” for the sake of democracy in the country.
Days before Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, Achakzai had cautioned against selective accountability, saying those who wanted to hold the then PML-N chief accountable should also demand it against those who violated the Constitution of the country and made Parliament non-functional.
In August 2016, he stirred up controversy when after a bombing targeting Quetta’s Civil Hospital, he told the government that blaming external forces for domestic terrorism “would not work this time” and that intelligence agencies — which failed to protect the people of Quetta — would have to find out who was behind the heinous attack on the city’s Civil Hospital.
“Nawaz Sharif should order intelligence agencies to deliver tangible results. Saying ‘RAW did it’ or ‘Mossad did it’ won’t cut it. Investigate, find out who the perpetrators are and where they are hiding and — with our support — kick them out,” he demanded.
Earlier this year, when the PML-N went through a political crisis in Balochistan which resulted in the bowing out of its government in the province, Achakzai stood by the party and also fielded a candidate in the subsequent election for CM, which was eventually won by Abdul Quddus Bizenjo.
Late last year, the PkMAP chief also mocked the National Assembly’s resolution condemning America’s decision of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He ridiculed the passage of the resolution and asked how a House that could not save the country’s Constitution, save the Palestinians.
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