NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 3

The new Pakhtun political party and its implications

Incumbent Member National Assembly, associated with a non-party Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), has announced the formation of a formal political entity, National Democratic Movement (NDM), aiming at achieving some general objectives instead of specific ones. The formation of the NDM was announced recently by Member of National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar along with a number of other leaders, like former Senator Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party (ANP); former MNAs Latif Afridi, Jamila Gillani and Bushra Gohar, also from the ANP, apart from many leaders from former Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Latif Afridi is also the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Announcing the basic principles of the party, Dawar said the NDM would forge a greater alliance and unity among the oppressed ethnic groups of society. He said political workers in the country, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, “felt a political vacuum,” so there was a dire need for a new democratic force. He said the youth, who were 64 per cent of the country’s total population, would be in the driving seat of the party. “Youth do not have representation in the country’s political process and the dilemma is that our political parties do not have democratic culture to provide an opportunity to the younger lot to come forward,” he said. The lawmaker said the main principle of the NDM was the formation of an impartial, peaceful and tolerant society in which all citizens would enjoy equal rights. He said the party would struggle for a new social contract among the federating units that would be based on justice and recognise rights on natural, financial and human resources.

The formation of the NDM would have important consequences provided the leadership manages if adroitly. The foremost implication of the setting up of the NDM is that the formerly popular PTM would get diluted as people, like Manzoor Pashteen, have been merely attracting young Pashtun lads and it has been people, like Mohsin Dawar, who not only got elected to the National Assembly but also built a case regarding the alleged systematic maltreatment meted out to tribal Pashtun groups. However, the PTM has been far from convincing in its demands and any allegations against the state agencies for disregarding and disrespecting the entire Pashtun ethnic group within Pakistan. The PTM was formed when a young Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud from Waziristan, was killed in an apparently fake encounter in Karachi by the police in 2013. The incident served as a trigger for dissatisfied Pashtun young men, many of whom have faced atrocities and maltreatment not only at the hands of law enforcement agencies but also from terrorist groups, like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which also emerged in Waziristan and was formed mostly by Wazir and Mehsud young men, like Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud, way back in 2007.

Wazir, Mehsud and Dawar are three largest and most important tribes inhabiting South and North Waziristan districts (formerly called “agencies” of FATA before the 25th Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution in 2018 under which they were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Indubitably, Pashtuns, whether in ex-FATA, Peshawar, Swat or Bannu, D.I. Khan, some of the worst affected areas of KP from terrorism, as well as northern Balochistan, have suffered enormously and faced large-scale death and destruction. However, the demands of the PTM putting the entire blame on the law enforcement agencies for the situation have not been fully justified. Still, there has been a lot of substance in the argument of the PTM. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan, himself an ethic Pashtun from Punjab province, at one point had said that the demands of the PTM were justified but the way they were trying to get the demands realized was wrong. Thus, the formation of the NDM would go a long way in shaking the PTM. It is important to note that Mohsin Dawar and Manzoor Pashteen have developed strong differences and it was expected that they would part ways. Moreover, Dawar could not give a concrete answer when he was asked by journalists that when the PTM was there why he had formed the NDM? The only answer was that the PTM was not a formal political party while the NDM would be and he and his fellows wanted to take part in parliamentary politics of the country proactively.

The second important implication of the formation of the NDM would be that age-old so-called Pakhtun nationalist parties, like ANP and to a certain extent the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) of Mehmud Khan Achakzai, would get a serious blow. Most of the leaders of the NDM, as mentioned above, are from the ANP and some are also from the PkMAP. So, if the NDM would be managed deftly by its leaders, including Mohsin Dawar, Latif Afridi, Afrasiab Khattak and others, it could pose a big challenge to the ANP. In response to the formation of the NDM, the ANP provincial spokesman and member of the KP assembly, Samar Haroon Bilour, said the NDM formation would have no impact on his party as it included only leaders who had been expelled from the party for disciplinary reasons and had no political base and constituency. This is true to a certain extent but political constituencies could be created any time as is evident from the phenomenal rise of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

For the last nearly one decade, the PTI of Prime Minister Imran Khan has been dominating the politics of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. One key reason for its dominance has been its capitalizing on the large-scale dissatisfaction among the huge youth population. The young people of KP and former FATA not only have faced the ravages of terrorism by the TTP, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups but also abject poverty and unemployment. In this situation, the PTI was considered a messiah as its leaders braved to tread regions like Waziristan where others failed to go even nearby. However, despite remaining in the government for eight long years in KP, the PTI has not been able to address the issues of most young people. In particular, the current government of Chief Minister Mahmud Khan even after three years has seemingly failed to bring about any improvement in the lives of people, specifically the young population. This is evident from the recent Gallup Pakistan, an independent think-tank focusing on public opinion surveys on different aspects of governance, in which CM Mahmud Khan’s government performance is worse than the performance of the Punjab CM, where the PTI also has its government. Against this backdrop, the NDM would capitalize on the situation and there is a strong possibility that a large number of Pashtuns, who voted in the last two elections for the PTI, would vote for the NDM. There is realization of the situation on the part of Mohsin Dawar and other bigwigs of the NDM and more importantly their supporters in the background. Thus, the NDM and its supporters want to take advantage of the situation. Consequently, both PTI, ANP and to a certain extent PkMAP and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl would also be affected by the formation and possible rise of the NDM.