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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Qaumi Watan Party: Formation & challenges

Himayatullah Yaqubi

The political landscape in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is undoubtedly very fluid and irregular due to a number of factors. The most significant dynamics influencing the political inclinations of the public in the province are its geographical location and perpetual external involvement in the region. Recent political trends have largely been changed by the ongoing war on terror penetrating by USA led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces against the Taliban and its allies.
For that matter the Pakhtuns-the predominant ethnic group of the province happened to be one of the most oppressed nations of the world. It witnessed the Russian invasion in 1978 which killed thousands of the inhabitants of the area. It was ideological orientation and socialist trends that Awami National Party-the traditional nationalist political organization of the province, ignored the miseries and very strong anti-Russian sentiments of the Pakhtuns, and passionately supported the Russian invasion. Contrary to their political positioning the nationalists once again extended gesture of goodwill and friendship to the American forces when they marched against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Along with the militant Islamist, thousands of Pakhtuns are becoming the victim of US bombardment, drone strikes, Taliban attacks and incessant operation against the insurgents. In the midst of the war millions of the Pakhtuns have been displaced. The unending warfare in the region and the opportunist policy of the outmoded nationalist parties has virtually increased the weariness of the people in the province. Consequently, the political scenario witnesses the emergence of new trends and challenges which could be seen from reasonably different perspective. In the process the people were gradually dismayed by the performance of the so-called nationalist parties due to their ignorance of public opinion. The common masses look for an alternative political force for addressing their grievances and broad-based issues. Hence, the emergence of the Qaumi Wattan Party (QWP), the leadership of which is claiming the true representative nationalist party of the Pakhtuns in Pakistan. It based the party program on the progressive political ideas of Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao, elder brother of Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao. He remained the federal minister for petroleum, natural resources, youngest governor and senior minister of the province during the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime.
Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao, known as an ideologue and Shaheed-i-Watan to most of the political workers of the QWP was an outstanding Pakhtun progressive politician, intellectual and social worker. He initiated an enlightened and progressive vision for the Pakhtuns residing in Pakistan. The title of Shaheed-i-Watan was accorded to him by thousands of his followers and those people who thought that he was not only a political leader par-excellence but also visualized a bright and prosperous future for the downtrodden masses. The realization of his being an outstanding politician and visionary does not come as a sudden phenomenon because his services were often themes of hujra discussion among the Pakhtun elders, intellectuals, Ulama, peasants, students and common men and women. The new title which the Pakhtuns bestowed on him emanated from this perception which is continuously developing day by day. The general Pakhtun intelligentsia is deeply concerned about their present predicament. The practicable and politically all-encompassing vision of Hayat Sherpao is attracting a large of number of them to redefine their objectives in the given circumstances. This gradual realization is interpreted by political analysts as an attempt to create an alternative Pakhtun nationalist political force in the shape of QWP.
QWP was formerly called Pakistan Peoples Party–Sherpao (PPP–S) a split away group from the Pakistan Peoples Party just before the 2002 general elections. PPP–S was named after its leader Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao. Differences had cropped up between PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao in 1999 and then the latter decided to design his own political organization. In October 2012, PPP-S was renamed as QWP when it changed its political agenda and declared itself as a Pakhtun neo-nationalist party. Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, by establishing the party has visualized a prosperous and bright future for the Pakhtuns in the political program of the QWP. He very shrewdly builds on the flaws of the traditionalists and capitalized on their consistent irrational policies. Aftab Sherpao remained among the masses and bravely faced the wretched law and order situation when the Pakhtuns were facing worst kind of terrorism in their history. Several times he was targeted by suicide attacks, having lost his near relatives and party workers. He bravely faces the anger of those whose near and dear ones have lost their lives in the attacks perpetrated to remove him from the scene. Unlike other nationalist leaders, however, Sherpao never fled from the sight and give the people a sense of a political leader having strong nerve who could ready to sacrifice his life for the progress of his own nation. He gladdened the injured and participated in the Nimaz Janaza of the deceased. Despite his own injuries and threats of more attacks, he went to the houses of many other grieving families to condole with them. From this moment on, it would be a yardstick by which politicians were to be judged that whether they possess the courage to face the threats and solve it once for all.
By remaining among the masses in the toughest hour of trials, Sherpao remained quite successful to develop a perception of nearness among the masses. He infused in their hearts a concept of leadership who shares both their mourning and cheerfulness. One may rightly designate it a charismatic dimension of his leadership style. It gradually increased his popularity among the Pakhtuns and projected him a capable leader who possesses the quality of deliverance at the demanding times. Moreover, his long association with the people of the province and his continuous endeavors for public welfare transformed the perception of his colleagues and workers for making the party more vibrant with a neo-nationalist program. The party appealing manifesto and sensational electoral strategy to counter other contenders has largely been successful because of its relatively better performance in the 2013 elections.
Accordingly the name and manifesto of the QWP were formally changed on October 17, 2012. The tri-color flag was also changed by replacing the green color with white. Aftab Ahmad Sherpao believes QWP will work for rights of the Pakhtuns of the entire region, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afghanistan, Karachi, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The challenging environment confronted by the Pakhtuns is because of the flawed policies of the previous governments. Owing to the absence of a tangible and pragmatic policy over fifty thousand people were killed and millions others injured in acts of subversion over the last several years. QWP has asked the federal government to seek a viable solution to the problems being faced by the Pakhtuns and take steps to restore sustainable peace in the country, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
At the legislative elections of 20 October 2002, the then Pakistan Peoples Party–Sherpao won 2 out of 272 elected members. In the 2008 general election, the party won only 1 seat in the National Assembly, in which the party leader Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao was successful. On the other hand, it won 6 provincial assembly seats, all in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The 2013 elections mark a record for Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and the party because it contested the elections with a Pakhtun nationalist political agenda. His success in the NA-8 Charssadda is the eighth successive electoral victory since 1977. During the elections the party branded itself as a nationalist force challenging the traditionalist ideological orientation of the ANP. The party leadership shrewdly out-maneuvered other nationalist political parties by capitalizing on their flawed policies. The party improved its position through making headway among the strong hold of ANP in a number of areas. It secured 10 seats in total, of which 8 were directly elected. This made it the fourth largest party in the province, and it joined a coalition government led by Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI). With support in the Pakhtun mainland like Peshawar, Mardan, Charssadda, Swabi, Buner and Dir, the party would pose a huge challenge for other contenders in the upcoming elections. Given the political program of the party, it can be argued here that it could neither be the spoiler, costing the ANP crucial votes nor the king maker, but a challenging nationalist force because of its pro-Pakhtun agenda. The joining of so many well-known retired bureaucrats, lawyers, educationists and other personalities is a clear indication of the QWP decisiveness in the provincial politics.
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