Tuesday November 28, 2023

ANP and the ghosts of Mashal and Bacha Khan

June 12, 2017

A war can result in many consequences. Perhaps no result can be more dreadful than turning into a mirror image of your own enemy. According to Michael Prescot: “When you fight someone, you take on that person’s qualities. You become that person. You become your enemy. And your enemy wins because now there’s another one of him in the world”.

The JIT report on Mashal Khan’s brutal lynching shows how the ANP has acquired the attributes of its worst enemies, including the Taliban it fought against so valiantly.  To put things in perspective, let me set the ideals against the reality.

The ANP traces its origin to the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement of Bacha Khan. Erland Jansson, a Swedish scholar, identified four key messages from the life of Bacha Khan: intense Pakhtun nationalism, moral and social reform, non-violence and Islam. Bacha Khan created his magic through a unique fusion of these four elements that many may find irreconcilable today. For some, the Pakhtun culture and non-violence are irreconcilable while for many others Islam and non-violence do not sit comfortably.  Bacha Khan proved both wrong, not theoretically but through his own example and the practices of hundreds of thousands of his followers.

Identity politics is, perhaps, one of the easiest and the most lucrative professions in the world. It usually starts and ends with laying all internal problems at someone else’s door and blaming them for all the ills in the world. This is what Carl Jung calls projection. A reformer, on the other hand, takes the opposite route. He identifies the devil within and invites the group to look not only outwards but inwards as well. There is hardly any wonder that some of the greatest men in history were killed by their own people. Gandhi, for example, was killed by Hindu extremists because they felt that he was siding with Muslim and Pakistan.

Bacha Khan’s life and struggle is strongly linked to the Pakhtun identity. For him, the Pakhtuns were not just a national or cultural group, but also a moral community. He aimed to reform Pakhtun society while leading a non-violent battle against the colonial masters. These qualities of Bacha Khan and his movement set him apart from most ethno-nationalist organisations in Pakistan and the wider world.

Rather than owning their devils and aiming to reform their people, ethno-nationalist groups often try to defend even the worst attributes of their tribe. They could even defend “cultural practices” like honour killing.  In 2008, a leading Baloch chieftain and the leader of Balochistan Nationalist Party (BNP-A), Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri, defended in the Senate the burying alive of five Baloch women in the name of “Baloch customary laws and traditions”. In 1999, Ajmal Khattak, an ANP stalwart, had defended in the Senate the honour killing of a girl named Saima Sarwar. During that session, some senators from Fata had even physically attacked Iqbal Haider, the law minister, for speaking against the murder. 

The defining feature of the ethno-nationalists in Pakistan is perhaps the destruction of education and educational system. Failing to garner widespread support, they focus on educational institutions and their student wings. The reason is obvious. Uprooted from their families and ancestral homes, the young men and women at that age are in search of identities and find some solace and comradeship in ethnic groups. However, the ethnic-nationalist groups cleverly use their ethnic affiliation to destroy their futures for their own political gains. We have seen it happening wherever ethno-nationalist groups have found an anchor at educational institutions in Pakistan.

For years, I argued that the ANP was different owing to Bacha Khan’s emphasis on education. The ANP has proved me wrong – totally and utterly wrong. I apologise to all my friends and readers who were convinced by my earlier arguments.

To me, the JIT report asks only one simple question: what do this party and its scoundrels have in common with Bacha Khan and his message? The reports hints at three deadly tendencies within “the most secular and liberal party” in Pakistan: religious extremism, violence and corruption.

According to the report, Mashal Khan was murdered in line with a plot allegedly hatched by Sabir Mayar, the president of the Pakhtun Student’s Federation (PSF), and Ajmal Khan, the president of the employees at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan – also affiliated with the ANP. According to the report, Mayar viewed Khan’s stance against activities on campus to be a threat to the PSF. In a way, it was a pre-meditated murder committed by an organisation that used religious extremism as a tool.

The ANP, during its tenure in KP, built seven universities. Mashal Khan’s case has shown how the party stuffed these universities with its incompetent loyalists at all levels. Once this is done to an independent organisation like a university, it becomes almost impossible to reform it. According to many observers, this is the position with all the new ‘ANP universities’.

It appears that, like the MQM, the ANP has also followed the technique devised by the JI to permanently “own” a campus. Like Punjab University, the control has been achieved through two means: by stuffing the university with loyalists and through violence by the student group. Once this control is achieved, these gangs can do anything to perpetuate their absolute control because, in the absence of merit, they feel perpetually insecure. According to the report, Mashal was murdered because he was seen as a challenge to this absolute control over the campus.

What the JIT does not mention is the shenanigans of the party leaders after Mashal Khan’s murder. Mardan is a district firmly under the control of the ANP. This district belongs to the extended clan of the Wali family – the Nouveau riche, newly-minted Hotis. In other words, it is the Nawabshah of the ANP. In this district, Amir Haider Hoti, the former chief minister of KP, issued Rs1.3 billion for the renovation and the rehabilitation of around 5,620 mosques and madressahs. When a committee of the KP Assembly started investigation into corruption allegations over this generous support, Hoti announced that 10,000 more mosques and madressahs would be constructed if he was elected once again.

ANP’s district nazim, Himayatullah Mayar, not only made statements against Mashal Khan, but also exerted his influence to save the accused. He refused to visit Mashal Khan’s home for fateha. Members of the ANP and the JUI-F in the district assembly shot down a PTI move to offer fateha for Mashal Khan. Later, the ANP settled the issue by sending a notice to Mayar and asking him to apologise.

Asfandyar Wali Khan never visited Mashal’s house for fateha and, on the day of his Chehlum, he chose to hold a public meeting in Karachi while the district head of the party and Amir Haider Hoti sneaked away to London to maintain distance from the incident.

The ANP has found its only defence in the involvement of a PTI councillor in the case. However, no intuitional linkage of the murder can be made with the PTI while the ANP’s fingerprints are all over the body of Mashal Khan. Imran Khan was, in fact, the first politician to condemn the murder and he took a bold stance on the issue from the very beginning, despite his close association with religious parties.

I suggest that Asfandyar Wali Khan should spend 40 days meditating at the shrine of Bacha Khan in Jalalabad. He owes it to the wise, old man because his politics depends on being the custodian to this shrine. I have no doubt that he will receive some guidance from his grandfather through a dream.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.


Twitter: @zaighamkhan