Writing in his response to Ali Arqam’s article ‘No more the party of Babas’, Yasser contends that if the ANP wants to make a return, it must cease to be the party of the Babas altogether.

 Respectfully, I must disagree with Mr. Ali Arqam Durrani’s piece published in this space. Mr. Durrani believes that ANP has gotten unpopular because it has ceased to be the party of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Tragically, it is precisely because it continues to harp on the identity politics that these two gentlemen indulged in vis a vis the federation that ANP has lost.

Consider: ANP reached its highest point – the pinnacle of its power – in 2008 elections. A part of that had to do with the legitimate demand of the Pushtun people that the continuation of the name NWFP, when other provinces are named Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, was discriminatory and therefore the province should be renamed. That demand was fulfilled when the name Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was adopted.  It was the culmination of a just struggle but it also marked the end of identity politics in KPK.

This identity politics no doubt had an illustrious history if a patchy and contradictory one. Before 1947, Bacha Khan and his brother, Dr Khan sb, never asked for the renaming of NWFP as Pakhtunistan or Pathanistan.  When Pakistan was created, Bacha Khan had attempted to garner support for a separate Pathanistan and in the process supported Faqir of Ipi’s Islamist insurgency against the new state of Pakistan.  Once the Pathanistan bubble burst, they began to reorient their politics. To do this, they were willing to parley with everyone and anyone.  Dr. Khan Sb for example joined the original King’s Party in Pakistan called the Republican Party sponsored by Iskandar Mirza and Feroze Khan Noon.

The present day ANP was founded as a more broad-based secular left party, NAP after Ghaffar Khan merged his supporters with Mian Iftikharuddin’s Azad Pakistan Party.  NAP was originally not a Pushtun nationalist party. It represented broad realignment of progressives all over Pakistan. It included left-leaning ex-Muslim Leaguers (like Iftikharuddin), remnants of the Pakistan National Congress, elements from the banned Communist Party of Pakistan (after it was banned in 1950s) and stalwarts like Maulana Bhashani.  It was however the break between Bhashani and Wali factions of the NAP that reduced Wali Khan’s party to a regional party. Nevertheless, during the 1960s Wali Khan’s NAP supported Fatima Jinnah’s candidature against Ayub Khan.  Unfortunately, the emergence of PPP in the late 1960s reduced NAP to a regional party. For a time it seemed that NAP would be able to work out a coalition with Mujeeb’s Awami League, but the events of 1971 ended that prospect in its infancy.

Since the 1970s, NAP consistently stood for Pushtun Nationalism within the Pakistani federation. That is the role it demarcated for itself.  After Bhutto banned the NAP, it re-emerged as ANP.  Wali Khan was in jail – on largely manufactured and trumped up charges- when 1977 elections approached. ANP – the once secular left party- allied itself with Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam to form the 9 star alliance under the banner of Nizam-e-Mustafa.  The demand of the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement was Islamization and it is a searing irony that secular ANP was its biggest supporter. The election disaster, and what followed, led to the worst martial law in Pakistan’s history.  However, it also meant that Wali Khan now was a free man.  The Babas now made the strangest of bed fellows with the dictatorship, their lip service to democracy notwithstanding.  Wali Khan’s brother Ghani Khan- who had once abused Pakistan and its founding father in his book on Pathans- was awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz on 23 March 1980 by the military dictator, who it must be said to his credit was gifted with a sense of irony.  Ghani Khan proudly accepted this great state honour, thereby opening doors for parleys between the great Frontier Gandhi and General Zia on the issue of renaming of NWFP. That correspondence between Bacha Khan and the military dictator has to be the lowest point in the former’s career.

During the 1990s Wali Khan’s politics was ambivalent to the greater progressive causes. He successively allied himself with the PPP and the PML-N.  Then came the MMA experience of 2002-2008, which created an opportunity for a vibrant ANP under the leadership of Asfandyar Wali Khan.  However, after the renaming of the province the people of KPK wanted results.  With one grandson of Bacha Khan at the helm of the party and the other as Chief Minister, one would have imagined that ANP would have done something to ameliorate the plight and misery of the masses, if only for legacy. Here ANP was found lacking. It was still stuck in the politics of the Babas, which for better or worse had come to a logical end with the renaming of NWFP.  Just as the Babas had never had any program for social and political uplift of their people, the present ANP leadership also thought that the new emotional slogan “Watan ya Kafan” coupled with a sympathy wave will bring them back to power.  They were sorely mistaken.

Were they restricted by the Taliban threat? Indeed. But that would have meant a difference of a few points here and there, perhaps a seat or two.  The complete whitewash of ANP however was an indictment by the masses of the woeful performance that ANP has put up. ANP’s very name has become synonymous with corruption in KPK. Their performance has led to such slogans as “Baba ta easy load waka” (Get Baba an easy load). The reason why ANP failed is because they thought – much like the PPP – that the memory of the Babas will help them beyond the grave.  They were mistaken. If ANP has to make a return, it must cease to be the party of the Babas.