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April 2, 2008

Hoti sworn in as NWFP chief minister

April 2, 2008

PESHAWAR: Slogans eulogising late freedom-fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and describing NWFP as Pukhtunkhwa were raised for the first time at the Governor's House here on Tuesday as excited ANP invitees to the largely attended ceremony vociferously celebrated Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti's oath-taking.

NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani administered oath to the 37-year-old Hoti, great grandson of Ghaffar Khan, reverentially referred to by his followers as Bacha Khan, and nephew of ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan.

Hoti is the youngest and 24th chief minister of NWFP. He is the first one to be elected unopposed in the history of the province. And his other distinction is that he became the first nominee of the Pukhtoon nationalist movement, now represented by the ANP, to hold the office of chief minister after Pakistan's independence.

All this gladdened the hearts of the ANP activists, some of whom proudly covered their heads with the party's distinctive red caps. They burst into sloganeering as soon as Hoti, accompanied by the governor and others, walked down the stairs from the imposing building of the Governor's House onto the lush-green lawns where the oath-taking ceremony took place. The slogans continued once the oath in English had been administered.

"Fakhre Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Zindabad" was one of their favourite slogans and so was "Bacha Khan Zindabad". His late son Khan Abdul Wali Khan too was remembered and so was Asfandyar Wali. Chants of "Pukhtunkhwa Zindabad" too were raised. The sprawling Governor's House, spread over around 140 kanals of prime land, had never resonated with such slogans having flavour of Pukhtoon nationalism.

While taking the oath, Hoti fumbled when he had to pronounce the words, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Some of the guests commented that the chief minister was in two minds whether to say NWFP or Pukhtunkhwa. His nationalist supporters would have applauded wildly if he

had amended the wording of the oath and pronounced the province as Pukhtunkhwa, the name that ANP has pledged to give to the NWFP. However, Hoti didn't deviate from the wording of the oath.

Earlier, Qari Ahsanullah had picked up the perfect Quranic verses for recitation while heralding the ceremony. The verses instructed believers to do right things and refrain from committing sins. Rulers too were given a dose of advice in those thought-provoking verses.

Visibly happy Asfandyar Wali and other senior ANP leaders including Afrasiab Khattak, Azam Hoti and Federal Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour were besieged and embraced by party workers after the oath taking. Hoti too had to embrace scores of party members and well-wishers and accept felicitations. The exercise took a long time as around 1,400 guests had been invited to the ceremony and the oath-taking had to be held outside in the lawns instead of the usual venue, Darbar Hall.

Most of the invitees belonged to the ANP, the dominant partner in the NWFP coalition government. Every president and general secretary along with six ANP activists from each Tappa, or party unit, from all 24 districts of NWFP and seven tribal agencies had been extended invitation to the ceremony. They all made sure to be present at such a historic occasion when the ANP after 61 years of failed efforts finally managed to place its nominee in the Frontier House, the spacious abode of the chief minister in Peshawar. By comparison, the PPP leaders and workers appeared subdued. They were less in number and their slogan-chanting lacked enthusiasm. One still managed to hear them chanting the familiar slogan of "Jeay Bhutto" and "Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Zindabad."

Earlier Tuesday, the NWFP Assembly formally elected Hoti as Leader of the House after the speaker sought their consent. The MPAs present on the occasion stood up to support him. Out of the total 116 members in the 124-member House, 113 were present at the time of voting. Three including Sikandar Sherpao, Muhammad Ali Mohmand and Syed Zahir Ali Shah were absent during the counting. Later, Zahir Shah managed his arrival and announced support to the newly elected chief minister.

Terming unanimous election of Haider Hoti as a historic and pleasant beginning, the parliamentary leaders and MPAs, including women and minority legislators, said it was for the first time in the history that all legislators reposed confidence in the young chief minister. They hoped to run affairs of the government collectively during the next five years.

Appreciating political maturity of the central and provincial leadership of the coalition parties, speakers from both the treasury and opposition benches reiterated their commitment to work for the welfare and prosperity of the nation and join hands for the achievement of provincial rights.

Amid loud desk thumping, Amir Haider thanked all the members for his unanimous election, saying he had no words to thank them for their historic decision in the existing sensitive situation. "Through my unanimous election, you have given a different message this time that the legislators are united for the solution of problems being faced by the people," he remarked.

In his maiden speech, the beaming Hoti paid tribute to the services of assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, martyrs of Swat, Charsadda and Peshawar, heroic struggle of lawyers and media and members of civil society, saying they all had struggled to bring the society out of the darkness.

Amir Haider Khan Hoti said the biggest challenges to his government was the lack of peace adding he could not allow the destruction anymore. "We will accelerate our efforts to restore peace to our land."

He said the NWFP Assembly would play the role of Jirga and every member of this august House would work for restoration of peace. He said the use of force was always the last option but unfortunately during the last several years the rulers used it as the first option, which worsened the situation.

"The deteriorating law and order, killing of innocent people was a matter of grave concern for all and that is why every MPA highlighted this problem during their speeches," he added. The chief minister said, "We are not terrorists. We want peace, brotherhood and prosperity. We do not want suicide waistcoats."

Hoti said, "We did not want guns, cartridges for our children but education and better future. This is the message of our Jirga, which we want to convey to all, both inside and outside the country."

He pledged the Jirga would hold negotiations with all the forces but hastened to add that there would be no compromise on security. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the security of life and property to its citizens, he said.

The government, he said, will be able to better serve the nation only after getting the provincial rights. "We will collectively fight war for getting provincial rights and will succeed in attaining them," he said.

Expressing concern over the existing condition of health, education, unemployment, price-hike, social and economic situation, foreign and local investment, Hoti said his government would solve these problems with the cooperation of elected members.

He thanked Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan, PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif and JUI-F Amir Maulana Fazlur Rehman for putting the country on the right track and giving comprehensive plans for the coming 100 days.

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