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Reviving the ANP

The ANP leadership went through the worst of times, including the suicide attack on then senior minister Bashir Bilour

No one knows what happened to the fact-finding committee’s report constituted by the Awami National Party (ANP) to look into the causes of its defeat in the 2013 general elections. In the previous Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly (2008-13), there were 47 MPAs from the ANP and 30 MPAs from the PPP. In the current K-P Assembly, there are only five MPAs from the ANP, while the PTI has 61 MPAs. While the ANP’s vote bank was reduced in K-P from 578,405 in 2008 to 556,525 in 2013, the impact on overall performance was huge. The PTI, on the other hand, secured 1,039,719 votes in K-P in 2013.

It is astounding to see how a political party can lose an election by such a wide margin when about a thousand ANP workers sacrificed their lives in the war against terror. The ANP leadership went through the worst of times, including the suicide attack on then senior minister Bashir Bilour. Mian Ifthikhar – information minister at the time – lost his only son, yet his determination was unshaken in the fight against militancy. Similarly, the late Afzal Khan Lala remained in Swat through the toughest of the times.

It is true that the ANP faced many challenges in its election campaign due to threats of attacks. Its failure can be attributed to three main factors. Firstly, the PTI as a relatively new competitor in K-P, caught the ANP off guard. There was no incumbency burden on the PTI as the party had never been in power. Imran Khan’s charisma coupled with the party’s well-managed youth-focused campaign, both on the ground and on social media, caused a huge setback to all parties in K-P, the ANP in particular whose vote-bank remained stagnant.

Secondly, the high standards of K-P's voters and electoral accountability made it very difficult for the ANP to maintain the confidence of voters for a second consecutive term. The terms 'SMS' and 'easy load' were often used to denote the corruption in the ANP government, 'SMS’ being short for Syed Masoom Shah, then special assistance to the chief minister. He remained in NAB custody and has already accepted a plea bargain of Rs258.7 million. Many believe that the amount is peanuts compared to the magnitude of corruption he was involved in. The term ‘easy load’ was used to refer to the act of greasing the palm of higher-ups for appointments and favours. It is a grave injustice that such corrupt practices and personalities exist in the ANP, a party whose martyrs sacrificed their blood for a cause.

Rather than discarding the membership of Shah, the ANP has been defending him on public forums. Similarly, a police chief during the ANP government was reportedly involved in an arms purchase scandal of Rs2031.25 million. It is hard to believe that the then chief minister was not aware of the corrupt practices of Shah and others that took place under his nose. This shows either complicity or a tolerance for corruption.

Thirdly, like many other political parties, the internal accountability mechanism is almost non-existent in the ANP. Wali Bagh in Charsadda and Hoti House in Mardan are the real power centres of the party. Ideally, the party leadership should have set up a commission to probe all charges of corruption. However, these power centres are treating the party as a family business. Intra-party ‘elections’ involve the distribution of key party positions amongst family members or those who show unquestionable loyalty to the power centres. Everyone in the party is accountable to Wali Bagh and Hoti house, whereas it should be the other way around.

The ANP holds a strong counter-narrative to militancy and fundamentalism. The only way for it to revive itself is to hold genuine intra-party elections, to bring able leadership to all levels of the party structure. The fact-finding committee’s report should be made public immediately and remedial measures taken. The ANP needs to focus on issues related to poverty, accountable governance and fight for oppressed people, not only in K-P but in the entire country. It should make serious efforts to change the voters’ impression regarding corruption within the party. In politics, impressions speak louder than reality, and sooner the ANP creates a positive impression, the better.