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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Editorial: Why is the ANP under attack?

"The Daily Times"Editorial: Why is the ANP under attack?

A suicide-bomber blew himself up at an Awami National Party (ANP) gathering east of Miranshah in Northern Waziristan. The blast killed eight people while Nisar Ali Khan, ANP candidate for NA-40 Miranshah, was mildly injured. The suicide used a car-bomb but there are other reports saying it was a not a car-bomb; however, whatever way it was done, it carried the signature of suicide-bombing. The dead included the local president and a leader of ANP. Four days ago, last Saturday, an ANP rally was bombed in Charsadda in the NWFP, killing over 30.

The ANP leadership’s reaction to the Charsadda bombing was, first, that it was not a suicide-bombing attack, and, second, that the party was defending the cause of the Pushtuns and was opposed to the NATO presence in Afghanistan. The leaders in fact expressed anger that a remote-controlled bomb fixed under the platform of the meeting was being called an act of suicide-bombing by the media. But after Monday’s suicide-bombing in North Waziristan, the reaction came from the ANP NWFP president, Mr Afrasiab Khattak, who said that “the government was responsible for such acts of terrorism, as it had failed to provide security to the people”.

The ANP is facing what all the political parties are confronted with in the country. Because of the almost absent writ of the state, they are exposed to threats against which they can’t defend themselves. Since the attacker wants to remain incognito the politicians are loath to name him lest the attacks redouble and the voters stay away from the polls out of fright. Tragically that applies to the media too. One newspaper in Peshawar has received a threat call asking it to “improve” its reporting if it didn’t want to be bombed. The irony is that media-men are compelled to cultivate the habit of assigning moral superiority to the attacker while calling in question the reliability of the state.

There are other “qualifications” that one must have if one wants to avoid being targeted. The first “qualification” is also desired by the voters in the NWFP and wherever the Pushtuns are living, and that is a clearly expressed hatred of America. The second qualification for safety is adherence to the new radical Islamic creed and a clearly expressed opposition to secularism. The third qualification is rejection of the elections 2008. The ANP qualified nicely on the basis of its long-standing opposition to American imperialism, but it failed on second and third qualifications. But the truth it has to accept is that it is faced with the same danger as those who have assented to participate in the elections. Its secularism and acceptance of transition via elections rather than confrontation via a boycott is clearly a political liability.

The rejectionist sentiment is widespread in the regions where the Pushtuns are located in the country although in Balochistan the Baloch nationalists are also a part of this consensus. According to one survey, reported Monday on a TV channel, Imran Khan is the most popular leader in the NWFP and the Tribal Areas. He qualifies because he is anti-American and anti-elections. Whether we like it or not, this does not translate as an even playing field for the rejectionists and the participants, the former having a clear advantage over the latter. The risk involved is loss of one’s life and those of the party supporters with collateral damage added every time.

Where is the state in all this? After a lot of hue and cry about there being a “Taliban Shura” in Quetta, the government decided to act against Mansour Dadullah, a commander of the Afghan Taliban as he was crossing over to Pakistan — at least that is how it has been portrayed — and captured him in a wounded condition. Mansour had recently succeeded his brother, Taliban field commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a May 2007 airstrike in Afghanistan. Mullah Dadullah was the exponent of the culture of beheadings which the Taliban leader Mullah Umar now pretends to dislike.

The same day the other side retaliated in Khyber by kidnapping the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Mr Tariq Azizuddin who was thoughtlessly travelling to his post from Peshawar without the provision of an armed escort which is a necessary requirement for senior government officials while travelling through the Tribal Areas. Mr Azizuddin was perhaps a victim of the widespread faith in the altruism of the terrorists who are said to be “sincerely supporting the cause against America” while the state of Pakistan has “sold out to Bush”. He may now have to be exchanged for Mansour Dadullah.

The ANP has the cleanest credentials among the parties in contention in Pakistan. Its support has increased because of its conduct in the past eight years. It aims to unite the Pushtuns under a cultural banner that was once given by its founder Abdul Ghaffar Khan when it was called NAP. In a country greatly in need of human rights and regional autonomy, the ANP is a strength we should count upon. It is tragic that the state is not able to defend it and terrorism goes unchecked in the country. *"

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