by Zia Ur Rehman
March 29-April 4, 2013
Amid threats by the Taliban, a number of politicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA are abandoning liberal political parties to join religious groups or contest independently.
In recent messages, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned people to stay away from the gatherings organized by the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Political analysts say the threats will help religious parties in the coming elections.
The ANP and the PPP opposed the Taliban during their five year rule that just ended. Taliban and other militant groups have killed a large number of political leaders and workers and threatened many others. That, analysts say, may have a negative impact on the elections.
In 2012, at least 29 reported terrorist attacks on politicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA left 28 people dead, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2012, an annual publication of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). Top leaders of the ANP, the Qaumi Watan Party (formerly PPP-Sherpao) and even Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have survived in suicide attacks.
“The poor security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indicates that incidents of violence are likely in the elections,” said Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a political analyst based in Swat. He said the Taliban were still in a position to carry out sabotage acts, even in sensitive areas.
Most districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being seen as sensitive from the security point of view, especially Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Lukki Marwat, Kohat, Hangu, Peshawar, Charsadda, Swat, Buner and Dir.
In a recent move, Istiqbal Khan, an outgoing MNA elected from district Buner on an ANP ticket, decided to join JUI-F. MPAs Fazal Shakoor from Charsadda and Sajjadullah Khan from Kohistan, also from the ANP, have already joined JUI-F. Other politicians who have recently defected to JUI-F include Mehboobullah Jan of PPP (an outgoing MNA from Kohistan), Zar Gul and Zarin Gul of PML-Q (former MPAs from Torghar district), and Atiqur Rehman of QWP (an outgoing MPA).
“A fear of Taliban attacks has compelled a number of leaders of liberal political parties to change loyalty and join religious groups,” said an aide of an ANP parliamentarian who recently joined JUI-F.
Other ANP leaders disagree. “Some ANP members joined other political parties because they were not considered for party tickets. It is more about tickets than protection,” said Bushra Gohar, ANP’s central vice president. She did acknowledge that the ANP will face serious security challenges in the elections. “But that will not deter us or weaken our resolve.”
Ijaz Khan, a Peshawar-based political observer, agrees some ANP leaders are abandoning the party because they have not been awarded tickets, but believes threats by the Taliban are also a genuine concern.
Political workers are concerned about their safety. “We cannot move freely to mobilize our supporters or run an election campaign in the province because of security threats posed by the Taliban,” said an ANP worker in Buner. “Our rivals from the JI can easily organize rallies and public gatherings.”
Some observers say the leaders of ANP, PPP and QWP are cut off from the people because of security fears, and that is sending voters away towards other political parties. “The right-leaning parties have easier access to the people because of their softer views on Taliban,” said an ANP activist from Buner. He said the militants were trying to bring pro-Taliban right-wing political parties in the parliament.
Political analyst Jan Achakzai disagrees. He said Fazlur Rehman, the chief of JUI-F, has changed his strategy. “He opened his party’s doors to people other than just clerics,” Achakzai said, “reaching out to leaders of the ANP and the PPP.” He said Fazl was making his group a moderate center-right party. “Now, peace, economy and foreign policy are the core issues.”
Threats of violence by the Taliban have worried leaders of the ANP and the PPP, but it has also created fear among the ranks of right-wing political parties. “Militant outfits are also targeting the JUI-F ever since the party started condemning suicide attacks in Pakistan,” said a leader from Bannu, requesting anonymity for security reasons. He said attacks on Fazlur Rehman and the recent killing of JUI-F workers was proof that the Taliban and the JUI-F were not ideologically aligned.
The writer is a journalist and researcher. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @zalmayzia