The Second Coming
Begum Nasim Wali’s entry into politics could accelerate the demise and disintegration of the ANP.
Could Begum Nasim Wali infuse a new dynamism into the ANP and its workers?
After long years of hibernation, Begum Nasim Wali Khan, a former leader of the Awami National Party and the wife of the late Khan Wali Khan, has decided to rescue the party from the clutches of those who have, according to her, “nearly destroyed the legacy of Bacha Khan and Wali Khan‘’. In the statement that announced her comeback, she accused the current party leadership of gross incompetence, corruption and indifference to the cause that the party has stood for since the inception of Pakistan.
Whether, and to what extent, her return to active politics would change the orientation or policies of the ANP remains to be seen. The ANP, once a formidable force in the politics of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and at times, in Balochistan, has been reduced to a non-significant position following its humiliating defeat in the May 2013 elections. It could barely capture two seats in the National Assembly.
The woes of the party are deepseated. The fundamental malaise that afflicts most political organizations in Pakistan is that leaders are tempted to transform their parties into family fiefdoms. Dynastic control of political parties robs them of their quintessential attributes of transparency and commitment to public welfare and casts doubts on their pledge to uphold the rule of law. This practice becomes even more ominous when the progeny down the line do not show the resolve, capacity or character that was the hallmark of their forefathers in managing and guiding parties.
The ANP also suffers from this malignant and debilitating malaise. When the baton was passed on to Asfandiyar Wali Khan, after Begum Wali was conveniently sidelined, it was immediately obvious that some ‘ major‘ forces were at play in helping realign the party and making it compatible with the wider interests and agenda of the United States.
In 2007, the Chief of the party, Asfandiyar Khan and his close associate, Afrasiab Khattak were invited to the U.S. where they were allegedly briefed about U.S. goals in the region and were taken into ‘confidence’ about the role ‘nationalist parties’ can play in restricting the influence of ‘religious’ parties that were in power in the frontier province at that time. Azam Hoti, the brother of Begum Wali, recently claimed at a press conference that the U.S. had given $35 million to Asfandiyar Khan in return for the party’s support for its agenda against the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan. That was the beginning of the emergence of a new cadre of ‘leaders’.
When the party came into power in KPK, and also won a few ministerial slots in the federal cabinet, most of its leaders faced unsavory charges of corruption. This annoyed many dedicated workers of the party. Moreover, the ANP was also seen to be toeing the U.S. line, which went against the dominant sentiment in the Pakhtoon areas. Workers were disillusioned and many of them became totally indifferent to a movement which they regarded, until then, as one that epitomized selfless service to the people and which was always willing to offer sacrifices to safeguard the interests of the Pakhtoons.
In such a dismal setting, with the
cadres having lost all hope of the ANP playing any decisive role for democracy or the protection of the rights of the people, what could be the role of the former leader of the party – Begum Nasim Wali Khan? Could her advent into the political arena be a game changer? Could she infuse a new dynamism into the party and its workers? Could she purge the party of the elements that have disfigured it and are fundamentally incompatible intellectually with the policy that has been espoused by its founding fathers?
For one thing, the ageing wife of Wali Khan may not be able to either attract attention or evoke sympathy among the declining numbers of workers who constitute the core of the party. Her age would militate against her carving out a space for herself in a reinvigorated political environment. There is no charisma in the octogenarian leader that would work for her. It may be too Herculean a task for her to undertake.
Many party activists were disappointed when she surrendered tamely to the lobby of Afrasiab and Asfandiyar when they conspired to end her domination over the party. Also, most party loyalists do not see any revolutionary change either in the policy or the manifesto of the party with her reemergence from oblivion after all these long years.
The ANP has very little to show for its achievements when it ruled the KPK from 2008 to 2013. To the common man, a change in the name of the province has not delivered anything. The party has lost its appeal to the people, more so to the electorate. Begum Wali cannot change all this in her final innings when she is no longer enjoying a robust health and does not have the energy or vitality to undertake the monumental task of reinventing a party that has lost its luster and failed miserably in coming up to the expectations of the people.
The five-year stint of the ANP in office – the first since Dr Khan Sahib’s government in the frontier province was sacked by Mr. Jinnah on August 21, 1947, barely seven days into the creation of the country – was marked by sheer incompetence, corruption and nepotism and has deprived the party of its very raison d’être. In these circumstances, the re-entry of Begum Wali would not alter either the image of the party or the attitude of the people towards it.
What the party needs is a reassessment of its goals and objectives, a fundamental reorientation of its strategy, a new manifesto, a revolutionary socioeconomic program and an untainted leadership which could inspire workers and attract educated people who could launch the party on a new trajectory. It needs a new leadership which could end the militarization of the province and the tribal areas. Begum Wali does not seem to possess the attributes that such a role would require.
Her entry into politics would thus change very little. As a matter of fact, this phenomenon will be transitory, not long-lasting. It will be a flicker that would fade out soon. It may, on the contrary, accelerate the demise and disintegration of a party which is fast becoming outdated and irrelevant in the current scheme of things.