By Zia Ur Rehman
Thursday, October 29, 2015
While the Awami National Party remains pretty confident of reclaiming its lost political turf in the local government elections in Karachi, analysts are less convinced about its chances as they continue to tip the “youth-powered” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and a resurgent Jamaat-e-Islami as favourites in the electoral battles in the city’s Pashtun-majority areas.
After almost two years of obscurity since the task of redrawing Karachi’s power map was taken up in 2013, the ANP has recently made it clear in no uncertain terms that it sees the local bodies polls as a viable shot at regaining the political relevance it enjoyed earlier in the city, fielding over 300 candidates in over 100 Pashtun-populated union committees.
“We have fielded a comparatively much larger number of candidates across the city in the upcoming local government polls,” said Hameedullah Khattak, the ANP Sindh secretary information.
“After forming alliances with other parties, especially the Pakistan People’s Party and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, in most of the constituencies, we are confident that our party will be successful in the elections.”
However, analysts believe that the PTI and the JI have emerged as key electoral political parties in the city’s Pashtun areas, exploiting the decline of the ANP because of the continuous Taliban attacks on its leaders, poor performance of its lawmakers and fissures within the party.
Karachi’s Pashtun politics
On the electoral front in Karachi, the Pashtuns, the city’s second largest ethnic community, have never acted like an ethnic group and traditionally aligned themselves with various political and religious parties.
These parties include the ANP, the PPP, the JUI-F, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and recently the PTI.
The sectarian Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat too has tried to create a support base within the city’s Pashtun community.
Karachi’s Pashtun votes have heavily been influenced by trends in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Following the voting trends there, Karachi’s Pashtuns voted for the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a nationwide electoral alliance of six religious parties, mainly the JUI-F and the JI, in the 2002 general polls; the ANP in the 2008 general polls; and the PTI in the 2013 general elections.
Analysts believe that PTI and JI have recently made inroads into the ANP and the JUI-F’s traditional support base in the city’s Pasthun community.
Naimat Khan, a veteran journalist who closely studies Pashtun politics in Karachi, said there were two main tendencies found among Karachi’s Pashtuns – those with a religious sent supported the JUI-F while the ANP exploited its Pashtun card in the city’s ethnic political atmosphere.
In the 2002 polls, the JUI-F had three Pashtun provincial assembly members in Karachi while the ANP won two seats in the 2008 polls.
“The emergence of the ASWJ and the appointment of Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqi, a Pashtun from the Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as its head affected the support base of the JUI-F while the ANP, because of several reasons, lost its support base to the PTI and the JI,” Khan told The News. He added that the JI mainly had influence in the city’s West district, where most of the city’s Pashtun neighbourhoods were located, because of the personal clout of its district chief, Abdul Razzaq, a popular Pashtun figure.
Rise and fall of ANP
The ANP has been active in Karachi’s politics for a long time but the party achieved parliamentary success in the 2001 local government polls, when it won the slots of nazim in two towns, SITE and Baldia, and was also successful in many union councils.
In the 2002 general polls and the 2005 local government elections, the ANP performed poorly In Karachi. However, after mustering the support of Pashtun elders and transporters after forming the Pashtun Action Committee, also known as the Loya Jirga, in 2006, and mobilising the community over the May 12, 2007 violence, the ANP emerged as a formidable political force under Shahi Syed’s leadership.
After forming an alliance with the PPP, ANP candidates won two Sindh assembly seats in Pashtun-majority neighbourhoods, Landhi Industrial Area and SITE. But the ANP has been on a downward journey in the city after that. Analysts say that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s attacks on ANP leaders and rallies were 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 the West district, compelled the party to stop all its overt political activities in the city. In June 2012, TTP operatives sent a message to the ANP leaders in the city to quit the party, remove its flags and slogans from their homes and businesses, and shut down their offices. Over 100 party leaders and activists have been killed by the TTP in the city, mainly in the West district. The terror outfit’s Swat faction, which is is loyal to its central chief Maulana Fazlullah, is behind the killing campaign.
Many key leaders and activists left the city and moved back to their hometowns and Islamabad. ANP insiders said the party’s former general secretary, Bashir Jan, along with his family, had recently applied for asylum in the US. Many of their lower-level cadres have joined right-wing political parties, including the PTI, the JI, and the ASWJ. In the 2013 elections, the ANP was unable to win a single seat in the West district. Khattak blames the continuous attacks on the party’s rallies in the city for it. The party’s candidate in NA-254 Korangi, Sadiq Zaman Khattak, was killed in a Taliban attack. Several party supporters had died in attacks on its candidates in PS-128 and PS-93. However, police officials and ANP leaders believe that the ongoing crackdown against criminals in Karachi had shattered the Taliban network as many key commanders of the outfit had been killed.
PTI, JI eye Pashtun voters
Analysts believe that the PTI and the JI had largely filled the vacuum created by the ANP’s absence from the Pashtun-dominated areas of Karachi, especially in the West district.
Razzaq said the city’s Pashtuns were unhappy with the ANP because of its involvement in ethno-political violence, introduction of extortion culture in Pashtun areas, and poor performance in the previous government.
“The city’s common Pashtuns have suffered because of the ethno-political clashes between the ANP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and pushed them into isolation,” Razzaq told The News. “Now the JI as well as the PTI can bring them back into the mainstream by ending their isolation.” The formation of the ANP-Wali faction led by Begum Naseem Wali is also creating problems for the ANP.
Two former provincial presidents of the ANP, Fazal Karim Lala and Qamoos Gul Khattak, who have now joined the other faction, have been trying to woo the party’s leaders into joining their ranks. Wali is also planning to visit Karachi in the coming days to organise the party in the city.
A group of ANP leaders, especially former MPA Amanullah Mehsud and Iqbal Kakar, has recently joined the PPP. Kakar has been recently appointed the PPP Karachi’s vice-president and tasked to support party candidates in Pashtun areas. However, Khattak claims 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 raises its voice for their rights”, he said. “Artificial forces have been creating an impression that ANP is finished in the city but the upcoming polls will prove this notion wrong.”