WHEN Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai grew disillusioned with the progressive National Awami Party (NAP) over the formation of the Balochistan province, following the abolition of One Unit, he parted ways and formed the Pashtoonkhwa National Awami Party (PNAP).

His beef with the NAP leadership at the time was that the ethnic character of the province, which was habited by both Baloch and Pakhtun tribes, along with a host of other groups, had been ignored when it was named ‘Balochistan’.

After his death in a grenade attack in Dec 1974, the job of leading the party fell to his son, Mahmood Khan Achakzai. Now known as the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), the Achakzai-led force still enjoys sizeable support in Pakhtun-majority areas of both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan — even though its strength in the assemblies may not reflect it.

But now, after nearly five decades, it seems the party is suffering from another identity crisis which threatens to tear apart not only its political leadership, but also split its support base across both provinces.

In recent weeks and months, Mahmood Khan Achakzai has expelled or taken disciplinary action against a host of veteran leaders and office-bearers — ostensibly in a bid to consolidate his power amid grumblings within the party about the way it is navigating the national and regional political scenario.

According to insiders and political observers, the disquiet among party ranks stems primarily from policy differences on three major fronts; the decision to ally with the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the party’s policy of seeking reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban and internal discipline.

The seeds of discord were sown in September, when — during an event held to mark Pakhtun Cultural Day — Mr Achakzai told PkMAP leaders and workers to either stand with the party on various issues, or leave. Failing that, he had warned, they would leave him no choice but to expel them from the party.

The party chief had blamed a faction within their ranks of indulging in activities that were not in the party’s interest, hatching conspiracies to form their own party and misguiding party supporters.

But despite this warning, Quetta’s political circles were not prepared for the drastic actions Mr Achakzai would undertake. A sudden statement on Nov 13 announced the expulsion of two senior leaders, Central Information Secretary Raza Muhammad Raza and two-time former provincial minister Obaidullah Babit.

This prompted a sharp reaction, and General Secretary Mukhtar Khan Yousafzai held the move to be “illegal and unconstitutional”, saying the chairman did not have the power to expel leaders without the approval of the central executive committee (CEC) and summoned a meeting of the party’s CEC.

Just two days later, Mr Achakzai expelled Mr Yousafzai and four other office-bearers from KP.

Up to this point, some senior party leaders were of the opinion that the issues could be resolved through negotiations and the intervention of tribal elders who have good relations with both sides.

But things only worsened when the CEC convened in Kuchlak and rejected all decisions made by the party chairman, instead announcing that they would hold a meeting of the party’s national congress in Quetta and inviting Mr Achakzai to take part in the event.

This did not go down well with the party chief, either, who expelled all leaders and members of the CEC from the party, which included a number of PkMAP MPAs — such as Nasarullah Zerey — as well as the party’s old guard from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. In Mr Achakzai’s view, the CEC meeting was illegal because the body had been dissolved by the party’s national congress in January of 2022.

Bones of contention

Those in the know say that differences began to emerge among PkMAP leaders following the 2013 elections, where the party won 11 provincial and five National Assembly seats. This was the time when Mr Achakzai partnered with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and joined the provincial government.

At the time, Mr Sharif had offered the party the governorship of the province, and senior leaders and office-bearers approved the name of then-general secretary Syed Akram Shah for the slot.

But instead, Mr Achakzai nominated his elder brother, former bureaucrat Muhammad Khan Achakzai, for the role.

Subsequently, Akram Shah left the party to join the newly-formed National Democratic Movement (NDM) led by North Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar.

Another group had also been alienated by the decision to partner with the Sharifs, who some within the party saw as representatives of the same Punjab-led establishment, who they held responsible for the killings of thousands of Afghans after the Soviet invasion.

In the past, PkMAP had used the slogan of ‘Punjabi istamar’ (imperialist) and had even staged a protest with black flags when Mr Sharif visited Quetta on one occasion.

Then, in 2020, when the PDM alliance came into being, opinion within the party became divided once again since many leaders and workers were seen as uncomfortable with PkMAP’s decision to join hands with them.

Around the same time, the Afghan Taliban retook Kabul following the fiasco of the US-led withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan. Many within the Pakhtun nationalist party sought an elected government in Afghanistan and blamed their party chief for having a soft corner for the Taliban government.

Differing views

For now, both factions are sticking to their guns. PkMAP Vice Chairman Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal — who is on Mr Achakzai’s side — argues that the decision to summon a CEC meeting was wrong because, since its dissolution in Jan, the body did not exist.

“When there is no CEC, how will the party secretary general convene CEC meeting,” Mr Ziaratwal told Dawn, adding that as per the party constitution, the general secretary could not call a CEC meeting without consulting the party chairman.

This, and other ‘intrigues’ compelled Mr Achakzai to expel 37 members of the party’s old guard who attended the “unconstitutional meeting” in Kuchlak.

Abdul Qahar Wadoon, the PkMAP provincial president for Balochistan, echoes this view, saying: “This group, which proclaims itself to be democratic and ideological, has ignored the party’s sincere and poor workers.”

Raza Muhammad Raza, who was expelled from the party, claimed that Mr Achakzai has not only “shifted” party policy on Afghanistan, he had also advised leaders and workers to refrain from making any statements against the Pakistan Army and to remain silent over the Durand Line and the fence erected along with Afghan border.

But the sacked party secretary general, Mr Yousafzai, claims he is in the right.

“The chairman cannot expel any leader or worker without the approval of a constitutional forum, which is the CEC and the national congress,” he said, adding that the Kuchlak meeting had revoked all powers of the party chairman until the next CEC, which will be held on Dec 27 and 28 in Quetta.

MPA Nasarullah Zerey also decried the “one-sided decision of the party chairman”, saying it was not acceptable.

“I am astonished that a leader who talks about honouring the vote is not ready to allow democracy in his own party,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Achakzai faction plans to host its own national party congress in Quetta on Dec 19 and 20, amid consultations with Pakhtun tribal elders.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2022



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