JIHADIS TARGET FRONTIER GANDHI'S PARTY
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.366
The Awami National Party (ANP) of Pakistan was founded by the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as the Frontier Gandhi. He was very close to Mahatma Gandhi and tried to popularise Gandhiji's concept of non-violence among trhe Pashtuns of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He strongly opposed the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.
2. After Pakistan became independent in 1947, its authorities arrested him because of his advocacy of the creation of an autonomous, if not independent, Pashtoonistan and because of their suspicions regarding his contacts with India. He made no secret of these contacts and of his love for India. When he was released after many years of his detention in the 1960s, he had the courage to openly visit India to renew his friendship with Indian leaders.
3.Ghaffar Khan was a leftist by ideology. The party founded by him is the only political formation in Pakistan, which is to the left of the political spectrum. It is secular and is strongly opposed to fundamentalism and wahabisation of the Muslim community in Pakistan.
4. The Frontier Gandhi was succeeded by Khan Abdul Wali Khan, his son, who was as great a lover of India as his father was. He was even more leftist than his father by conviction. He was very close to the erstwhile USSR and the then President Najibullah of Afghanistan. He openly used to visit India for a few weeks every year to meet Indian leaders, as well as Kabul as the personal guest of Najibullah. He was a strong critic of the jihad being waged by the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Afghanistan. He ignored with contempt a disinformation campaign mounted by the ISI against him projecting him as an Indian and Soviet agent.
5. There were only two Pashtun organisations----both equally moderate, equally enlightened, equally secular, equally friendly to India--- which strongly opposed the Afghan Mujahideen, the late Zia-ul-Haq's attempt to Wahabise the Pakistani society, the Taliban when it came into existence in 1964 and the trend towards the Talibanisation of the tribal belt of Pakistan under President Pervez Musharraf. The ANP is one of them. The Pakhtoonkwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) headed by Mahmood Khan Achakzai is another. The ANP's following is confined to the Pashtuns of the NWFP. The following of the PMAP is confined to the Pashtuns of Balochistan.
6. When Wali Khan was incapacitated due to old age and illness, he was succeeded by Afsandyar Wali Khan, his son, another moderate and secular-minded person, who has been strongly opposed to the Taliban. After the death of Wali Khan in 2006 , differences cropped up between Afsandyar Wali Khan and Naseem Wali Khan, one of the two wives of Wali Khan, who was the step-mother of Afsandyar. The Army and the ISI took advantage of these differences. As a result, the party has been weakened, but it continues to be as secular, as moderate, as leftist and as opposed to the Taliban as it has always been.
7. Unidentified jihadi terrorists targeted an election rally of the ANP held at village Nahaqi, near Peshawar, in the NWFP on February 8,2008, killing 27 members of the party through an improvised explosive device (IED), which is suspected to have been detonated by a suicide bomber. In accordance with the security advice of the police, the meeting was held in a closed place and not in a public place. The enclosure had been subjected to security checks by the police. Despite this, the bomber managed to gain entry with his concealed IED undetected by the Police. The enclosure was closed immediately after the meeting started. It is stated that a large crowd of ANP supporters found themselves locked out. They pressed those responsible to let them in so that they could attend the meeting. The door was opened and the waiting crowd entered without being subjected to security checks. It is suspected that the bomber must have entered along with them.
8. Afsandyar Wali Khan was not present at the meeting, but Afrasiab Khattak, one of the senior leaders of the party, was. He escaped reportedly unhurt. Afrasiab Khattak was very close to Najibullah and used to live in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when Najibullah was the President along with Ajmal Khattak, another senior leader of the party. Both of them returned to Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister in 1988.
9. No organisation has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack has come shortly after Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, had announced an unilateral ceasefire in its operations against the Pakistani security forces---not only in the tribal areas, but also in the non-tribal areas. According to well-informed Police sources, this cease-fire announcement came after secret talks between the Pakistan Army and Serajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalalludin Haqqani, the Afghan Mujahideen leader, who belongs to the Neo Taliban led by Mulla Mohammad Omar. Serajuddin, for whom the US agencies have been hunting, is widely perceived as the mentor of Baitullah. According to these Police sources, the Pakistan Army is keen that the elections should be held as scheduled on February 18,2008, and hence had reached an informal cease-fire with Baitullah to prevent any disruption of the electionbs by the Mehsuds.
10. The fact that despite this cease-fire, the ANP election rally was attacked shows that either Baitullah has not been able to enforce the cease-fire or that other organisations such as the ant-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) do not feel themselves bound by this cease-fire and are determined to disrupt the elections at least in the NWFP, if not elsewhere.
11. There have also been indications that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is not as united behind Baitullah as it is perceived to be. Even as Baitullah's followers were fighting fiercely against the Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan and the Darra Adam Khel-Kohat area of the NWFP, the leaders and cadres of the Tehrik in North Waziristan and the Bajaur Agency were observing an informal cease-fire.
12. The ceasefire with the Mehsud component of the Tehrik does not necessarily guarantee that the elections will not be subject to serious disruptions. That is the message from the attack on the ANP rally. (9-2-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )