Asfand believes that Pakistan needs secular, progressive parties that are fighting against the rapid radicalisation of Pakistani society

Though not entirely shocking, one of this election cycle’s significant developments has been Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s rejection of ANP, which only managed to obtain one seat in the national Parliament. Hakimullah Mehsud’s threats of not allowing the likes of ANP, PPP and MQM to campaign were effective, as they followed swiftly with violence. Pamphlets too were distributed in Peshawar and other urban areas in KP, threatening anyone displaying an affiliation with the ANP.

While Punjab was the primary focus of the election, KP, Balochistan and Sindh had to combat disturbing levels of pre-election violence. As corruption, the economy and promises of roads and trains became the discourse of the election, dozens of ANP workers were decimated by the Taliban along with assassination attempts on party leaders. Amidst all the talk of democracy and campaigning, the ANP (and to a lesser extent MQM and PPP) dealt with blow after blow, to a point where electioneering made little sense. Asfandyar Wali was left making calls from Islamabad to party workers who were still out, bravely canvassing for votes. It’s a damning indictment how, in the aftermath of the elections and allegations of rigging, nothing has been made of the grave injustice that the Taliban wreaked on the ANP. That said, to focus solely on pre-election violence would be reductive and would ignore the lackadaisical governance of the party over the past five years.

Governing KP has hardly been easy over the past decade, and the PTI too will have a lot to do in the province. Unlike Punjab or Sindh, KP is handicapped because of multiple variables – primarily the presence of the military and the Taliban. Effective governance in areas controlled by the military is difficult, due to the military’s preoccupation with curtailing violence and pushing the Taliban back. Additionally, the influx of IDPs into urban centres has put immense pressure on municipal authorities and their ability to deliver electricity, water, transport and other important services. Implementing welfare policies and pushing development projects becomes harder as well in the face of mounting Taliban violence. For all of Imran Khan’s rhetoric about drone strikes and military operations, a rude awakening will also likely be waiting for him as he realizes the army’s complicity in drone strikes, or the fact that militancy is tied in with foreign policy – a preserve of the military. Of course, these are all issues that handicapped ANP’s governance, though the people of KP have, perhaps harshly, deemed ANP’s issues with corruption to be of ultimately greater concern and barometers with which to judge the party’s tenure.

However, Pakistan needs parties like the ANP – secular, progressive parties that are fighting against the rapid radicalisation of Pakistani society. In a country where every political party’s been happily conceding ground to radical elements, the ANP is one party that always strived against the Taliban and their ilk. Rather than nursing its wounds, the ANP should look to the future by restructuring its ageing hierarchy and expanding beyond its ostensibly provincial remit. It has a wealth of young, tireless workers who believe in the party’s philosophy and can help in ensuring the party’s continued existence and relevance. The sacrifices of party leaders like Bashir Bilour should not be in vain, while the likes of Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Bushra Gohar are widely respected consensus politicians that can help steady the ship. Begum Naseem Wali’s return to the party too could help rejuvenate its base, though it could equally lead to muddied leadership.

ANP have paid significantly for their opposition to the Taliban, and have consistently seemed the only party which hasn’t vacillated in its desire to find a solution to the problem. As the governing party in the province most devastatingly affected by militancy, they too have often been the only ones to understand the gravity of the situation at hand. For all the obnoxious advertisements throughout the election, and for all the exhortations and exultations offered up by politicians, party workers and journalists, it turns out that at the end of the day, there was perhaps no more relevant slogan than “Watan, ya kafan.”