ANP’s fall from grace

The party has reached a point where it is essential for it to re-examine its objectives, performance and structure

ANP’s fall from grace


he Awami National Party has secured only one Provincial Assembly seat in the 2024 election. This is the party’s worst performance since its establishment in 1986. The party has blamed this defeat on widespread rigging in favour of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. It also considers the engagement of the establishment in Pakistani politics a problem, not a solution. ANP leaders say the current situation and recent developments can only harm democracy. The party has called for token protests. Large-scale protests are hard to imagine at this stage.

A survey of the ANP’s performance in the three most recent elections reveals a steady decline in popularity and support in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They won four general seats in the 2013 election, seven in the 2018 election, and one in the 2024 election. The ANP and its leaders may blame external factors like massive rigging and establishment interference for the decline but there are other factors to consider as well.

It is indeed sad that despite the widespread reverence for Ghaffar Khan alias Bacha Khan on account of his heroic fight for independence from the British and the popularity of Wali Khan for his persistent efforts to establish a progressive politics in Pakistan the party appears paranoid, isolated, clueless and directionless. The need of the hour is a clear diagnosis of the malaise afflicting the party.

The decline began three decades ago when Wali Khan withdrew from politics and retreated into seclusion, leaving his son, Asfandyar Wali Khan, in charge of the party’s operations. The latter proved an inept administrator and an incompetent planner and manager. His primary focus was on consolidating power within his household rather than decentralisng it to include party workers and organisations. The despotic nature of dynasty politics, camouflaged by a semblance of democracy, has severely undermined the standing and prospects of the ANP. The ANP and the Pashtun communities deserve better representation than the hereditary leaders.

The main problem with ANP’s dynastic politics lies in its hierarchical structure. It is no longer limited to the central leadership and has now extended to all districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other provinces. One can count the symbolic ‘idol’ leadership of ANP on fingertips. These well-known individuals always seek advice from the central or provincial hereditary leader of the party. For their ‘loyalty,’ they are chosen for various positions. They are also the ones who get the party’s nominations in elections. This has resulted in a vacuum as there are only a few leaders dedicated to party workers and potential workers. To remain robust and dynamic, a political party needs a continuous inflow of new eyes and new brains. It appears that the ANP has been resisting change and has developed a tendency to adhere to traditional practices. This unwillingness to adapt is hindering progress in both the party’s policies and structure.

Political workers affiliated with a party are the messengers of its leaders’ vision and wheels of change. These devoted activists dedicate their energies to popularise the party’s political ideology. Their only hope is that their lives will get better once the seeds of the ideology blossom. However, their purpose is not achieved by simply chanting some slogans. They also have to visualise the potential for advancing their political careers, for instance by running for elections or becoming part of the party leadership. Regrettably, the current leadership of the ANP is either unable to comprehend this reality or oblivious to its importance.

Limiting political workers to promoting the narratives of their ancestors does not empower them. On the contrary, the practice renders them handicapped and generally useless. Restricting the political workers to such functions also boomerangs. It causes the structure and narrative of the party to atrophy and becomes more vulnerable. Perhaps this is causing the rot in the ANP, too. A deficient system for cultivating new leaders within the party has damaged its reputation and credibility among its Pashtun constituents. The party must trust its people and embrace innovation without fear. Continued failure to do so may result in a lack of public trust and potential loss of electoral support. ‘Rotating the strike’ as in cricket is a demonstrated method of building durable partnerships. A rotation of leadership, both at the lower and higher levels, will similarly foster a long-lasting connection with the populace and nurture more trust among its members.

To extricate itself from its current predicament, the ANP must undergo a comprehensive process of rebranding, reorientation and reinvention – at all levels. Currently, it appears irrelevant to the life of many Pashtun populations. There is a substantial mismatch between the local Pashtun community issues and the narratives the ANP stresses on. Previously, the ANP used to dominate both local and national politics. Currently, they are only watching the unfolding events. It is crucial not to abandon the people and the party’s workers at the mercy of the leaders of other parties and the social media to figure out their issues. ANP leaders’ silence on evolving issues has rendered them and their party irrelevant and yielded space to other movements in the region. It continues to alienate still larger numbers of its supporters.

The time has arrived for the ANP to re-examine its objectives, performance and structure. There is a dire need for it to redefine its objectives, goals and strategies to solve Pashtuns‘ problems and be visible in national politics. There is a need for a new thesis on Pashtun lives so that their current and future issues can be brought into the public discourse at both local and national levels.

Elections are like examinations. Diligent candidates engage in preparation well in advance rather than cramming over the final two months. It is important for the party to update its slogans and establish a new charter to bring about positive change in the lives of the Pashtun people. There is much it can do to bring about a positive change in their social, economic, political and cultural lives.

These outcomes can be achieved through active engagement in politics. The ANP leaders who desire to withdraw from politics temporarily should allow the emergence of new leaders to undertake the task on behalf of the party and the public. They should be allowed to connect with the people and become integrated into their daily existence. Let the people feel their presence. Let this process begin without further delay. Else, be prepared to stagnate in the status quo.

The writer is an assistant professor of journalism studies at the Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi. He can be reached at His X handle is @JourStudiesProf

ANP’s fall from grace