Asfandyar Wali Khan: Pakistan’s Civilian Leader Under Attack?
There is one Pakistani politician to watch in the coming months. He hails from the so-called tribal badlands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, and could play an important role at the national level…that is, if he survives…
Asfandyar Wali Khan, an MBA, who hails from a distinguished family of politicians and is the leader of Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP), said on Sunday the blast that killed 29 of his party workers at an election rally in Charsadda in the North-West Frontier Province was a “targeted bombing” that was meant to eliminate the entire party leadership.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Wali Khan, grandson of the Pakhtun nationalist leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (better known as Frontier Gandhi), said it may have been intended to scare the ANP into pulling out of the electoral race or a move to sabotage the holding of elections scheduled on February 18.
The Jamestown Foundation in its Global Terrorism Analysis provides interesting insight into Asfandyar Wali Khan’s, and his party’s, role. “The potency of Pashtun nationalist forces should not be underestimated. Given their checkered history and traditional support base, they are potentially an effective and viable political force to challenge the religious extremists in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This analysis profiles Asfandyar Wali and his party, which has shown determination in reversing the radical Islamist political trends in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan.
“…He argued that a Pashtun peace jirga involving Pashtun nationalists, civil society actors and religious players from both sides is the last hope for the region. He interpreted the recent ANP victory in the Bajaur elections as a bright spot in the overall troubling scenario and made a case for allowing liberal political parties to operate and function in the tribal areas. This can only happen, he emphasized, if the Political Parties Act of Pakistan is extended to FATA.
“In reference to the causes of conflict in the tribal areas, he lamented the fact that only pro-government maliks (tribal elders who are on the government payroll) are engaged and mushiraan (“people’s” maliks who are financially independent) were completely ignored. This led to a failure in resolving the crisis in FATA. Furthermore, he thinks that Pakistan should have distinguished between the pre-9/11 foreigners who are by now well settled in the area and the post-9/11 foreigners that came in to find a sanctuary.
“He also believes that fundamentalist forces are now battling for influence and territory in Sind and Punjab provinces. He was very confident that the ‘ANP is in a position to take on MMA in NWFP and tribal areas, but we are not in a position to take on the establishment.’ When asked what his expectations are from the international community and the United States, he replied: ‘the international community should ensure a level playing field for all political forces in the region.’ Elaborating on this further, he narrated a humorous Pashto proverb that can be roughly translated as: I don’t need any charity, but please chain your dog’.
“Critics of ANP argue that supporting Asfandyar and his party might lead to the cessation of the NWFP from Pakistan and even to the unification of Pashtun areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is unlikely since the Pashtuns of Pakistan are well entrenched in the political system and have been integrated socially and culturally into the national fabric of the country. Another relevant criticism fired at the ANP is its provincial or nationalist identity.
“Since its inception, however, the ANP has always had some representation in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan and has never called for a separate homeland. What it has asked for is more provincial autonomy, which is within the restraints and provisions of the federal constitution of Pakistan.
“The crux of the matter is that Asfandyar Wali and the ANP are potentially capable of reversing the Talibanization trend in the tribal areas provided that the Pakistani establishment recognizes the high stakes involved, such as the growing influence of religious extremists in the region and the increasing number of suicide attacks within Pakistan itself.