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Awami National Party

April 01, 2013

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The origins of the Awami National Party (ANP) can be traced back to Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgars (KK) party in the 1930s – a leftist, anti-imperialist and secular movement.

The ANP has seen several ups and downs in its fortunes – and while it remains ostensibly secular, much of its leftist agenda seems to have been replaced by de facto pragmatism.

The party is dominated by the Wali Khan family and the Bilour family, and has transitioned to focus more on Pakhtun nationalism as part of its agenda. It most recently held 13 seats in the National Assembly and 12 in Senate. History

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned National Awami Party (NAP) after the assassination of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao. At the time, Bacha Khan's son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, who had a crucial role in NAP, was suspected of involvement in the killing and was arrested and sent to Sahiwal jail.

Later in 1986, NAP re-emerged as Awami National Party under Wali Khan's leadership. Although the party’s cadre comprised of Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists, it eventually boiled down to a group representing the Pakhtuns.

After the end of Ziaul Haq’s regime, ANP entered into ruling alliances with PPP and Pakistan Muslim League in late the 80s and 90s but these associations proved to be short-lived, especially with civilian governments being sent packing one after the other.

Meanwhile, ANP’s reigns switched from Wali Khan to senior leader and poet Ajmal Khattak who led the party through the 90s. Wali Khan, who had retired from politics, continued to play a role in the party through his wife, Begum Naseem Wali.

After Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, Khattak left ANP over political differences which developed in the wake of his meetings with the former military ruler and the endorsement of the latter’s policies.

After Khattak’s departure, Wali Khan's son, Asfandyar, took charge of the party. And although ANP did well in previous polls, it saw a dismal performance in the 2002 election — which according to many political observers were rigged in favour of religious parties.

This was also the time when Begum Naseem’s political role was reducing with increased tensions between Asfandyar and his stepmother. Meanwhile, the party also won back the loyalty of the popular Khattak, who  rejoined ANP before finally retiring from politics.

In the 2008 general election, ANP turned out to be the dominant party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and allied with PPP at the centre.

Political stance The ANP’s ancestors had strong leanings toward Marxism but the party has seen significant ideological modifications over time.

The party has strongly supported provincial autonomy and Pakhtun nationalism. It successfully lobbied for the North West Frontier Province to be renamed as Khyber Pakthunkhwa.

The ANP has also put itself forward as a secular and liberal party. This, however, has gone alongside alliances with right-wing political groups, including Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) in 1970 and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in the 1990s.

The party is a proponent of reducing defence expenditure to levels that ensure fulfilling the requirements of social and economic welfare of the public. And although ANP aims at shifting "emphasis from public sector development towards a market approach", it seeks to simultaneously safeguard the country's low income groups.

Moreover, pledging "to protect the interests of the working and labour class", ANP has vowed to make efforts to reduce the differences in salaries between highest and lowest paid government employees.

It also stands opposed to any interference in the country’s political process from the armed forces. The ANP’s manifesto further elaborates on the subject of separation of powers and emphasises the separation of the judiciary from the executive.

The party also calls for the protection of citizens' right to privacy "in domestic matters and in communications". It opposes measures such as "wire-tapping, censorship and entry into private premises without legal authority" and has pledged to promote people's "political rights and freedoms" which it adds should be matched by "advancement in the social and economic spheres".

Moreover, ANP has vowed to ensure "gender equality" and to repeal "all discriminatory laws" which have infringed on women's rights and abilities to partake in decision-making in homes, communities, society and the country at large.

It also wants improved ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well as cordial relations between Pakistan and the United States despite the party’s opposition to US drone attacks in the country’s tribal areas.

The ANP has also been in favour of dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban. However, it also considers military operations against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) a viable option. The party supported the military operation in Swat after the failure of the government’s peace deal with the Taliban. More recently, it held an All Parties’ Conference (APC) which called for a dialogue with militants.

Over the years

ANP has managed to come forward as a party with stakes beyond its traditional stronghold of KP. The influx of the Pakhtun population in Karachi in the past few years has made ANP a significant force in the country’s financial capital. This has resulted in a new kind of conflict in the metropolitan city between claimants of the Pakhtun voice and Karachi’s major political force — the MQM.

Moreover, the party, with its secular standpoint and opposition to appeasing militants, is continually targeted in terrorist attacks, particularly those staged by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It remains especially vulnerable because its regional stronghold of KP is also located in the militancy-hit northwest. From February 2008 to very recently, the party’s leadership has come under attack several times.

Its chief Asfanyar narrowly escaped a suicide blast in October 2008 and his sister Dr Gulalai, a prominent surgeon, suffered injuries in an August 2010 attack in Peshawar. Also in 2010, a son of the party’s senior leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain was shot dead and the grieving leader’s house was attacked the same week. The attacks on Hussain and his son were claimed by TTP.

Moreover, Khattak’s shrine was also attacked by militants in Nowshera. The walls and dome of the structure were damaged in the explosion. Also, most recently, party leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour was killed in a TTP-led suicide bombing in Peshawar.

ANP was also in the news in 2012 when its leader Ghulam Bilour strayed from party policy and announced a bounty on the film-maker behind an anti-Islam movie.

Very recently and despite continual attacks targeting the party, ANP took the initiative to restart a dialogue with militants. It arranged an APC in this regard, the proceedings and declarations of which were rejected by TTP. Instead, TTP took the subsequent JUI-F-led moot on the matter much more seriously.

Key figures Asfandyar Wali Khan, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Afrasiab Khattak, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, Ghulam Bilour, Shahi Syed, Zahid Khan, Aqil Shah

— Research and text by Hammad Abbasi