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Friday, May 17, 2013

Time to Reflect: Whither Pakhtun National Movement

Time to Reflect: Whither Pakhtun National Movement?
Prof. Ijaz Khan
Dept of International Relations
University of Peshawar

Awami National Party (ANP) has been electorally wiped out. Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) has shown good results in Pashtun Balochistan only. Qawmi Watan Party (QWP) claiming to be an alternative to ANP as a Pashtun representative, has more numbers to show but whether that is a better result and is that due to its Politics or the electoral strategy of its leader, Aftab Sherpao, needs to be understood.Though it has some good sincere nationalists in its fold, whether it qualifies to be a nationalist party is also a question. Broadly speaking, Pashtuns nationalists have lost elections in KP as well as FATA. Their better showing in Balochistan needs to be interpreted and studied carefully but has not been done here as this study focuses on Pashtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only. It is admitted that a comprehensive study of Pakhtun national movement must take into account all Pakhtuns.

There is a multiplicity of factors for this. It is time for these parties to reflect on their performance, which most probably they will be doing. These results also call for reflection by Pakhtun Nationalists, Democrats and Progressives, whether within the fold of these parties or some other smaller party or outside any of them. It is a loss for Pashtun National movement as well. They must reflect on the questions; it was a tactical defeat due to specific weaknesses of the ANP Government, ANP’s failure in representation of the Pakhtun issue, is there a flaw in their understanding of the Pakhtun National question today or their organizational weaknesses.  They were target of the forces whether in State or outside, who considered them and their politics as a threat is one factor, even if very important must not be exaggerated let alone taken as the only one. It must be understood that such forces would always be against them and doing all they can to beat the progressive Pakhtun voice. The question is why Nationalists have not been able to resist this onslaught? This is not to belittle the personal sacrifices of ANP leaders and workers or their bravery. It needs to be understood, it is not a question of bravery, it is a question of Politics and Politics is about reaching out to people.
Nationalism is a modern phenomenon. It is expected to take people out of tribal and feudal bonds to a higher level of connectivity and an identity based on Language, geography and economic interests. As such it is democratic and civic as it provides for inclusion of the whole people in decision making. This ethnolinguistic identity is expected to unite the people to struggle collectively for control of their resources and manage them through an autonomous political arrangement, whether separately or within a State where its identity is recognized and protected and its constitution permits it to run its affairs itself. Socially a nationalist has to be from the more progressive, forward looking and enlightened sections of the society. In the current globalizing world, a nationalist is not an isolationist but struggles to be a part of the human struggle for prosperity and progress, contributing to it and taking its share in it. ANP has failed to attract the modernizing changing social strata of Pakhtuns, the main component being the youth. The music produced in the past few years reflects that social change. ANP must ask itself and so must other Pakhtun Nationalists, why are those listening to the music of Ismail and Junaid, not a part of it. Preserving your identity does not mean resisting and rejecting change. Culture is not something static. It evolves and whatever Pashtun behavior is today, is Pashtun culture. Nationalism does not mean returning to or preserving Hujra. It is spearheading of the modernist change and the change in social institutions along with it. Pashtun Nationalists have miserably failed to be identified as a force of progress. Rightly or wrongly they have been perceived as forces of social conservatism. It has to be clear that promotion and protection of your language and making it a medium of instruction in schools does not mean, Nationalists are against other languages, especially English, which has become an international language of education, progress, commerce and connects you with the world. A Nationalist of today has to be promoting English language rather than resisting it. Young people know English opens a world of opportunity for them. So, if they perceive a political stand is against English that will be interpreted as denying them exploitation of the available opportunities and limiting them. Pakhtun Nationalist must take a correct stand on the language issue and also convey that to the people. Perceptions play very fundamental role in politics.
Organizationally, I will talk of mainly two alternatives; one changing the fundamental structure of ANP to the level of almost creating a new party and second focus on what can be done while retaining the current structure of ANP.
Pashtun Nationalists have not been able to work in one organizational structure. They have failed to provide a forum for accommodating the various strands of Pakhtun Nationalism.  This failure is most probably the result of essentially rural based feudal political culture of Nationalist Political Parties, both ANP and PMAP. Somehow it has not been able to accommodate dissent within the party.  Pakhtuns need a Political Forum that can accommodate the different strands of opinion within it. Being in Pakistan it can be a bigger political forum along with representing all the ethno national identities is also able to accommodate the democratic opinion in Pakistan. Secondly, whether at Pashtun level or Pakistan level, more specifically ANP retaining its current makeup, needs to evolve a mechanism to stay in touch with its workers and the people. Its slogans should also be addressing the micro governance issues in addition to the macro political ones. One of the major reasons for the electoral loss has been failure in addressing the governance issues and day to day problems of people. The party must take up governance and economics more seriously than it has.
ANP’s poor showing at the polls has been its inability to reach out to the people. There was a genuine hurdle of serious terrorist threat but ANP should have been able to minimize its disconnect and thus its loss through some innovative thinking, modern technology and a little calculated risk. Terrorist threat has not gone away. Rather it has increased. ANP leadership has to seriously find way to connect with people and its cadre at district and village level. Bacha Khan’s movement which ANP claims to be its heritage attracted lower classes of Pashtun society. ANP has gradually shifted to bigger khans of Pakhtunkhwa. While ANP is not a class based party and all classes should be welcome, it needs to proactively cultivate the weaker segments of society.
The suggestions about leadership change are worth considering but in the opinion of this scribe, not a vital requirement. The need is for opening to the concept of collective leadership and a galaxy of leaders with at times divergent opinion on some specific issues. Changing current leadership with younger scions of the same families will create more distrust than giving any message of change.
A modern political party needs a continuous flow of intellectual inputs in policy formulation. There is serious need for a research organization. This institution should be independent of party structure, consisting of professionals who agree with the party philosophy in very broad terms not necessary its members and continuously producing research based literature on various issues in addition to specific policy papers as desired by the party leadership.
Running a party also needs finances and it is an expensive affair. To fully utilize the potential of modern technology and stay in touch with the people, money is required. Party has to streamline and generate new sources of funding. It has to launch a serious effort in this area. However, people will give when they trust you and they will trust you when you reach them and show them that you are doing something good for them. But the dilemma is you need money to reach out and do something to show it to the people to gain their trust and respect. Party has to think innovatively to break the cycle of lack of funding. Its finances must be transparent to start with.
Towards the end, one must acknowledge, ANP did try to transform its image, did try to use modern technology and also did try to get independent intellectual inputs in decision making, both in the government and at party level. A sort of think tank Bacha Khan Research Institute was also established. It could not develop these initiatives is a question that it needs to look at seriously. The need is not to go back but look forward and see why its attempts at party reform did not succeed. 
One good thing that it has not lost most of its workers, though some have either left or have become inactive. Even those active, mostly have complaints. The loss is more of voters and general support. This means with some serious soul searching and corrective action it can reactivate and even gain more active party members and regain and expand its public support.
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