A fierce leader

Begum Nasim, in matters of discipline and party affairs, was known as the Iron Lady.

Begum Nasim Wali Khan, a pioneer of resistance politics in Pakistan, breathed her last on May 16 in Wali Bagh, Charsadda.

She was born in 1933 in Mardan. Her father, Amir Muhammad Khan, was a Khudai Khidmatgar leader. Her brother, Azam Khan Hoti, was a nationalist politician. Begum Nasim married Khan Abdul Wali - a towering nationalist politician - in 1954. Her father-in-law, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, alias Bacha Khan, was a popular nationalist leader. She chose to be a traditional Pashtun housewife.

Together, Begum Nasim and Abdul Wali Khan had two children, a son Sangeen Wali Khan and a daughter Dr Gulalai Wali Khan. They also raised her step-son Asfandyar Wali Khan, the incumbent Awami National Party leader.

As a mother and political leader, Nasim Bibi was a caring and loving woman. From the day she stepped into active politics till her death, she remained Mor Bibi – a mother – to the party workers and her children.

Begum Nasim and Wali Khan made a remarkable couple. Some called it ideal. Wali Khan was known to have a deep regard for his brilliant wife. She was an excellent partner to the high profile nationalist leader

As a housewife, she took care of the household letting her spouse struggle for democracy and the rights of the marginalized, free from any obligations of home or hearth.

Nasim Wali Khan entered active politics in 1975 when the government banned the National Awami Party. Wali Khan, Asfandyar and law Bacha Khan, as well as hundreds of party workers, were arrested from the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan on charges including the murder of Governor Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao. Hayat Sherpao, the elder brother of Qaumi Waan Party leader Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, was killed in a bomb blast at the University of Peshawar.

Several NAP leaders who escaped arrest, including Ajmal Khattak, Afrasiab Khattak and Nasim Bibi’s brothers Azam Hoti went into exile in Afghanistan.

The party, its workers and leadership, were going through a terrible period when Nasim Bibi - till date a housewife - came out wearing a traditional black shawl.

“The male family members and senior leaders of the NAP were either in jails or in exile. So I accompanied Bibi to the prison to seek guidance from Khan Abdul Wali Khan on her political role,” says Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, veteran ANP leader and a longtime confidant of Bibi. Wali Khan told us to decide ourselves what was feasible politically, he added.

The NAP was banned, so a new political party – the National Democratic Party (NDP) – was formed with Sherbaz Khan Mazari as president and Nasim Wali Khan as senior vice president. This was the beginning of her political career. Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was elected gneral secretary of the NDP.

As a mother and political leader, Nasim Bibi was a caring and loving woman. From the day she stepped into active politics till her death, she remained Mor Bibi – a mother – to the party workers and her children.

Senior party leaders still remember when Nasim Bibi, while addressing the party workers, promised to keep her black shawl on her head till the ouster of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. There was no turning back for Bibi.

In 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ordered the arrest of some 50 NDP leaders on charges including high treason.

In 1977, Nasim Bibi led her party in general elections and was elected on two National Assembly seats from Swabi and Charsadda. She was the first woman in Pakistan to win two National Assembly seats in general elections. In the ensuing anti-Bhutto movement, Nasim Bibi’s fiery speeches against Bhutto and his policies gained her much popularity.

Bibi was known for her strong-mindedness. According to Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, when in 1977 the opposition was indecisive on tendering resignations from the National Assembly to mount pressure on Bhutto, Bibi was the first to announce her resignations from both the National Assembly seats.

Nasim Bibi had the unique honour of being directly elected to Provincial and National Assembly four times. She was also elected president of Awami National Party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter and leader of the opposition in the Provincial Assembly thrice. Mor Bibi, in matters of discipline and party affairs, was known as the Iron Lady.

Nasim Wali Khan was extraordinarily decisive. The ANP was twice part of coalition governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, when the party’s demands were not met, they quit.

In 1998, the ANP, under the leadership of Nasim Bibi, was part of a coalition government with the PML-N. When Prime Minister N Nawaz Sharif refused to change NWFP’s name to Pakhtunkhwa, Bibi decided to quit the coalition despite much reluctance among party leaders, including some provincial ministers.

“Nawaz Sharif was willing to rename the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I rejected that as we were promised the name Pakhtunkhwa when the coalition government was formed,” Nasim Bibi told this scribe in her last interview with Khyber TV in 2012.

She said she was stunned when in 2010, the same ANP, now led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, agreed to the name and formed a coalition with the PPP.

Bibi started losing control and influence in the late ’90s. There was a growing resentment among party leaders against her ‘rigid’ control over party affairs and her alleged intolerance of dissenting voices.

Bibi was utterly weakened by her husband Khan Abdul Wali Khan’s passing in 2006 and further depressed when her son Sangeen Wali Khan died two years later.

She tried to form a group within the party. It was called ANP-Wali.

Her deteriorating health and age did not let her muster enough strength and support to stand up again and be counted. The Iron Lady of a secular nationalist party thus ended up in political oblivion.

Nonetheless, till her death, Nasim Wali Khan was revered by party workers as Mor Bibi.

The writer hosts a political talk show on Khyber TV and can be reached at hasan.khyber@gmail.com

A fierce leader