by Zia Ur Rehman
July 27, 2015
Kicking off its preparations for the upcoming local government elections scheduled in September this year, the Awami National Party has reorganised its set-up in Karachi’s West district, an area comprising many Pashtun-populated neighbourhoods.
On July 24, the ANP leadership dissolved the party’s organisational cabinet in the West district and formed a seven-member organising committee to revamp its set-up in the area. The body is headed by Usman Ghani and its other members include Murad Khan, Mian Syed Abdul Wahid, Alamzeb Alai, Alhaz Yousaf Khan, Anwar Ali and Sarfaraz Jadoon.
Hameedullah Khattak, the ANP Sindh information secretary, said the committee would run the party’s affairs in the district till a new cabinet was formed. “The party’s recent restructuring is in connection with our preparations for the local government polls,” said Khattak.
West district politics
The West district is one of the city’s six in total and has several Pashtun localities.
It mainly comprises areas of the former towns of SITE, Baldia and Keamari. After the recent delimitation, the West District Municipal Corporation has 46 union councils, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The ANP has been operating actively in the district, and it had achieved parliamentary success in the area in the 2001 local bodies polls.
The ANP had won the nazim slots in two towns – SITE and Baldia – and emerged victorious in many union councils under the leadership of the then provincial president, Qamoos Gul Khattak.
In the 2001 local bodies polls, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had boycotted the polls and by forging an alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, ANP candidates Amir Nawab and Aurangzeb Buneri had defeated Jamaat-e-Islami-backed candidates in the two towns.
In Keamari town, independent candidate Humayoon Khan, who is now a PML-N MPA, was elected as the nazim.
In the 2002 general elections, the ANP was unable to fetch any seats from the West district as its Pashtun constituents largely voted for the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an electoral alliance of six religious parties. Three Pashtun leaders of the alliance’s two key components – the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the JI – Maulana Omar Sadiq, Hafiz Naeem Shamozai and Hameedullah Advocate had won the seats of the Sindh Assembly in the West district.
In the 2005 local bodies polls, the MQM largely won in the towns of SITE and Baldia, defeating the ANP candidates who were backed by the JI, the PPP and the PML-N. However, at the union council level, the JI had secured most slots in the Pashtun-populated areas of SITE town. The PPP had achieved success in Keamari town.
In the 2008 general elections, the ANP had grabbed an MPA seat, after forging an alliance with the PPP. Analysts believe that the ANP mustered the support of Pashtun transporters and influential Pashtun political figures under the banner of the Pashtun Action Committee formed after the May 12, 2007 violence in Karachi. After forming its government in the Centre, the PPP had taken the ANP on board in Sindh government and handed over the provincial labour department to the party.
However, the ANP has been on a downward journey in Karachi because of several reasons. Analysts say that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s attacks on ANP leaders and rallies are one of the key reasons behind the party’s diminishing strength in the city. The Taliban’s unabated killing of ANP leaders and attacks on their houses and businesses in Karachi, especially in the West district, have compelled the party to stop all its overt political activities in the city.
In June 2012, Taliban terrorists had sent a message to ANP leaders in the city to quit the party, remove its flags and banners from their homes and shops, and close its offices.
Over 100 party activists have been killed by the Taliban in the city, mainly in the West district. The terror outfit’s Swat faction, which is headed by Maulana Fazlullah, is responsible for these killings.
Three ANP West district presidents – Saeed Ahmed Khan, Ameer Sardar and Dr Ziauddin – and general secretary – Hanif Advocate – were killed in recent years. Two members of the recently formed organising committee – Murad Khan and Wahid – were also severely injured in Taliban attacks.
Many key leaders and activists left the city and moved back to their hometowns and Islamabad. Others have joined right-wing political parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the JI and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.
In 2013 general elections, ANP was unable to win even a single seat in the West district.
Police officials and ANP leaders believe that the ongoing crackdown against criminals in Karachi has shattered the Taliban network in the city as many key commanders of the terrorist outfit operating in the metropolis have been killed.
Can ANP reclaim its lost turf?
Despite the successful crackdown, it will be difficult for the ANP to regain its lost stronghold as, to fill the vacuum created by its absence in Pashtun-dominated areas, particularly the West district, the JI and the PPP have been working extensively to win the support of the Pashtun constituents.
Abdul Razzaq, a Pashtun JI leader who heads the party in the West district, has been assigned the task of contacting tribal elders, civil society groups and political leaders of the community.
Similarly, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has tasked Akhtar Jadoon, a former provincial minister who was elected from the West district’s Keamari area, to woo the Pashtun community elders of the city into supporting the party.
JI chief Sirajul Haq and Zardari also visited parts of district West and met Pashtun elders in the meetings.
Also, the emergence of the PTI has also become a major challenge for the ANP in the district. The fissures within the ANP and the formation of ANP-Wali faction might also divide the votes of the the party in the Pashtun-populated parts of the district, analysts believe.
Ali Arqam, a Karachi-based analyst, said Pashtun votes in Karachi are influenced by political trends and tendencies at the national level. “They have never acted as a homogenous ethnic group on the electoral front, nor has their number in the city materialised into support for the ANP,” Arqam explained.
Pashtun localities are known for their diverse political support base, as one can see flags, graffiti and offices of almost all political and religious parties there busy in their activities there, he added. “Obviously, it would divide the Pashtun vote bank in the upcoming local bodies polls.”
However, Khattak claimed that the Pashtuns of the city do not approve of other political parties. “The ANP is the only party that represents the Pashtun community in the city and raised its voice for their rights,” he maintained.