Lie low

Attacks and threats force ANP to tell its members to stop political activities in Karachi

Lie low
The unabated killing of party leaders and attacks on their houses and businesses in Karachi have compelled the Awami National Party (ANP) to stop all overt political activities in the city.

On June 15, the party completed its organizational re-structuring and elected Shahi Syed its Sindh president again. The process was carried out at Shahi Syed’s own residence in DHA, a relatively safe, affluent neighborhood, instead of the Baacha Khan Markaz, the party’s provincial headquarter situated in Pirabad – a Pashtun-populated neighborhood that has fallen into hands of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Syed told the newly elected officials to refrain from political activities.

After the party’s failure in general elections, the entire organization of the ANP was dissolved in August 2013, and fresh countrywide party elections were announced.

[quote]Because of the threats, some ANP leaders are joining right-wing political parties [/quote]

“The ANP had registered more than 250,000 members in its last membership drive carried out four years ago, but this time, we were able to register only 40,000 members,” Syed said. “It is because of fear. The TTP has killed more than 100 party office-bearers and workers in Karachi, compelling others to leave the party, or leave the city.”

Wakeel Khan Swati, a member of ANP’s election committee, said they could not organize membership camps in Pashtun neighbourhoods of the city and it was very difficult to convince people to run for party positions at union council levels. The party has not set up organizations in areas such as Manghopir, which are completely under the influence of the TTP.

Political analysts believe that attacks on ANP’s Karachi leaders is a continuation of the TTP attacks on the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, related mainly to a ‘clash of ideologies’ and because of the party’s Pashtun-nationalist secular outlook. Hasan Khan, an Islamabad-based political analyst who monitors the Taliban insurgency in the region, says ANP has always opposed the Taliban and their predecessors – the Afghan Mujahideen. “Targeting influential Pashtun elders is the key strategy of Taliban groups, first successfully carried out in Afghanistan, then FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now in Karachi,” he said.

Shahi Syed thinks that the TTP Swat chapter is behind the campaign of violence. In June 2012, TTP operatives sent a message to ANP’s local leaders to quit the party, remove their party’s flags and slogans from their homes and businesses, and close their offices.

Background interviews with Pashtun elders and journalists suggest that in the beginning, the TTP did not get involved in subversive activities. “This was in line with a TTP policy to use Karachi only for fund-raising and rest and recuperation,” said a local journalist. “But then they seemed to have changed their plans.”

ANP leaders belonging from Swat say Swati militants who fled to Karachi after a military operation began in the troubled valley had been assassinating pro-government Swat residents and ANP leaders under the cover of then ongoing ethno-political targeted killings. Shahi Syed said his party’s leaders had been paying extortion money to TTP militants. The Taliban demanded a Rs 20 million ransom when they abducted ANP leader Ajab Khan Lala’s son two months ago.

A source close to the TTP Swat faction, said the Taliban believed the ANP was secular, “anti-Islamist”, and cooperating with the US, and it was part of the outgoing government that carried out a military operation against the Taliban in Swat. The Swat Taliban have claimed responsibility of killing several ANP leaders in Karachi.

People stand near damaged vehicles at the site of a bomb explosion outside an election office of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi in 2013
People stand near damaged vehicles at the site of a bomb explosion outside an election office of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi in 2013

In the 2008 general elections, the ANP won two seats of the Sindh Assembly from Karachi’s two largest Pashtun-populated areas - SITE Town and Landhi industrial area. But in the 2013 polls, the TTP targeted the rallies and offices of the ANP candidates from the two areas – Bashir Jan and Amanullah Mehsud – killing and injuring several party activists. The TTP claimed responsibility of the May 2, 2013 killing Sadiq Zaman Khattak, an ANP candidate from NA-254 Korangi, in Bilal Colony area.

Because of the threats, some members of ANP are joining right-wing political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

An ANP activist who was the party’s candidate in the last general elections from Baldia Town area recently joined the PTI. He said he had abandoned the ANP to save his life, adding that he had been receiving threats from the TTP. Several leaders of the party have left Karachi and migrated to their native towns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of the threats.

The Baacha Khan Markaz, once the party’s headquarters in Karachi, has been closed for two years.