PESHAWAR: A September 16 letter to regional police officers titled “common threat picture” from the Central Police Office in Peshawar would suggest to anyone interested in the state of security in the region that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The letter, prompted by a meeting of proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan naming political and administrative figures as potential targets, points to the threat that political figures and officials continue to face.

The threat has persisted for years now, even when incidents of terrorism have waned, diminishing the scope of their activities, bringing their public and official output and efficiency to a virtual halt.

A figure that has been a continuous fixture of the “common threat picture” is that of Awami National Party leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Of significance is the timing of the letter. It comes in the run-up to the All Parties Conference, naming Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao of Qaumi Watan Party (AWP) and Mian Iftikhar Hussain along with an ex-PTI MNA from Bajaur tribal district, as targets.

While Mr Sherpao is leader of his party, Mian Iftikhar’s position in his party is more of a worker. He is a member of the joint opposition Rahbar Committee, within which he represents ANP. Within the party, he is the central general secretary.

There is little by way of active decision-making that Mian Iftikhar affects, within his party ranks or within the ambit of the larger political sphere of the province. But somehow, the continuity of threat he faces makes him more than what his position and influence within the public and party politics would suggest.

“Perhaps the roots of the threat can be traced back to his vocal stance against the TTP and terrorism in the province and region when ANP was in power [2008-2013],” says a political observer of Mian Iftikar, who received a Hilal-i- Jurat for his brave stand against terrorism.

For his vocal anti-terror stance -- that Mian Iftikhar once said was not his personal war but the people’s war and as a spokesperson of his party ANP, he merely voiced what people wanted him to say -- he has paid dearly.

In 2010, his only son Mian Rashid Hussain was target-killed. On the third day of his death, a suicide bomber blew himself outside Mian Iftikhar’s residence in Pabbi town, killing nine people -- some of them his family members -- and injuring 16 others.

Since 2010, say ANP sources, Mian Iftikhar has hardly celebrated any Eid in his village due to threats that have never stopped. He largely avoids public places and meetings. His friends and family have advised him to leave the country but he chooses to stay on and fight back what he believes is a problem that hurts the people more than him. Even when he has largely kept to himself, say the sources, his words perhaps carry more weight than others, who have taken even more provocative stance against the security establishment and terrorists.

“That, symbolically speaking, is both his curse and his reward,” says the political observer. He adds that it doesn’t matter if there are 10 people in a public political forum like the APC, saying things more explosive than him, as long as they don’t come from Mian Iftikar.

Since 2008, and later in the run up to elections 2013, when his name regularly appeared in terrorist hit lists, Mian Iftikhar has seldom campaigned. As threats persist, the situation hasn’t improved for him. If at all, it has only worsened. “Maybe, those, who threaten him don’t want him to voice his opinion on the state of play in the country,” say party sources.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020