The PPP prides itself on being a party that makes or breaks leaders. Those who leave the PPP, it maintains, meet political death.
But if there is one leader who has proved this wrong, it is the 69-year-old Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao from Sherpao in Charsadda district. He’s a formidable leader who has been contesting and winning elections from his native NA-8 constituency since 1977, until 1999 from a PPP platform. He became chief minister of the then NWFP in 1988, and in 1994 manoeuvred a no-confidence motion against the PML’s Sahibzada Pir Sabir Shah to become chief minister again.
He developed differences with Benazir Bhutto after the PPP’s humiliating defeat in the 1997 elections. She suspected that he had been in league with the then president Farooq Ahmed Leghari over the dismissal of her government, a charge Mr Sherpao rejects by arguing that Mr Leghari dismissed his government too. The real reason Ms Bhutto was miffed, he says, was his demand for intra-party elections.
Mr Sherpao formed his own faction of the party, the Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S) and had varying degrees of success, relying mostly on candidates over whom he had personal influence to maintain a reasonable presence in the provincial assembly.
Retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999 saw Mr Sherpao going into self-exile after a dramatic escape from the National Accountability Bureau’s dragnet. But just before the 2002 elections, he returned home — and went straight to jail to face a series of corruption charges. This, his detractors allege, was part of a deal he had struck with the military ruler.
He was exonerated and contested elections from NA-8 to become a federal minister, first as minister for water and power and later as interior minister. This stint saw him become embroiled in a legal battle over the charge of complicity in the murder of Baloch leader Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti. The case is ongoing.
Over time, Mr Sherpao veered towards Pakhtun nationalist politics, a direction towards which he had always had leanings. In October last year, he launched the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) as a challenger to the Awami National Party. Contesting from this new political platform will be a feat of sorts for Mr Sherpao. If he wins, it will be his eighth consecutive win as a member of the provincial as well as the national assemblies. All eyes, thus, are on how the new party fares at the ballot.