Once considered a bastion of Pashtun support, the Awami National Party (ANP) suffered a second consecutive defeat since 2013 in Karachi in last month’s general elections.
Although the party has rejected the election results, alleging that the electoral exercise was manipulated, analysts believe that ANP’s popularity is on a downward trajectory in the metropolis as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has completely replaced it in the Pashtun-populated neighbourhoods.
Speaking at a gathering of party workers at the Baacha Khan Markaz in Banaras on Saturday, Asfandyar Wali, the ANP central chief claimed that there was a conspiracy afoot to keep Pashtun leaders out of the National Assembly.
“Elections were manipulated to favour certain political parties, casting doubts on the entire exercise,” he said. “Pashtuns, who are victims of terrorism, are deprived of genuine representation in the assemblies through ballots,” he added, urging the city’s Pashtun community to unite for their rights.
Political observers believe that despite rousing speeches by leaders and having a significant number of supporters, the party’s sway on Pashtuns in the city is on the verge of ending.
ANP had an appalling performance in the July 25th elections as it could not secure a large number of votes from constituencies where it had fielded candidates.
Even the party’s provincial chief Shahi Syed, who contested from two national assembly constituencies – NA-250 (SITE, Qasba Colony) and NA-238 (Landhi Industrial Area, Ibrahim Haidrey) – lagged behind in the electoral race.
In NA-250, Ataullah Advocate, a Pashtun candidate from the PTI won the seat by bagging a little over 36,000 votes, while Syed ranked sixth in the constituency by securing 11,384 votes despite making a seat adjustment with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
Similarly, in NA-238, a Pashtun candidate of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Syed Rafiullah, won the seat by securing over 29,000 votes, while Syed managed to get only 3,760 votes.
When it suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2013 general polls, the party had conducted an inquiry to find and discipline the people responsible. However, in this year’s election, the party is insisting that it lost because of “rigging”.
Analysts believe that the party performed well on the electoral front in Karachi only in the 2008 polls. Since then, it has been on a downward spiral showing dismal performances in the 2013 polls, 2015 local government polls and in July 25th’s general elections.
According to journalist Munir Ahmed Shah, in 2008, ANP utilised the May 12, 2007 violence to generate an anti-Muttahida Qaumi Movement rhetoric and won two Sindh
Assembly seats from the city’s major Pashtun areas after forging an alliance with the PPP. But this time, it didn’t have anything as such going for it to boost its message and appeal.
“The crackdown in the city has also caused a significant decrease in the politics of ethnicity that has had a grip over the city. This has hit ANP quite hard, since it does not have an ethnic rival against which it could rouse its supporters,” Shah said.
He added that the poor performance of its former two lawmakers, the involvement of its cadres in violence and criminal activities and the irrelevance of anti-MQM rhetoric damaged ANP in Karachi this time and provided space to its rivals, especially PTI, in Pashtun areas.
Following the electoral trends in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the people overwhelmingly voted for PTI, Karachi’s Pashtuns cast their ballots in favour of the Imran Khan-led party, rejecting the traditional ethnic political parties, including ANP, that have been active in their localities for the past several decades.
ANP’s dismal performance in 2013 could also directly be attributed to the attacks on party leaders and political gatherings by Taliban militants.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s unabated attacks on the party in 2013, especially in District West, compelled the party to go underground as it lost more than 100 leaders and workers in the terrorist attacks.
However, after the crackdown on TTP, the ANP did not face serious threats from the proscribed terror outfit in the recent general elections, yet it remained unable to put together a convincing campaign and muster support from voters.