Red or dead

Fawad Ali Shah May 23, 2010

KARACHI: They are known by their smart red caps, raucous rallies where drummers play it loud and speeches in Pashto that are peppered with jabs at the ruling establishment.

The Pakhtun are also known for their unbreachable code of honour and their belief in an eye for an eye. So what happened to these men in Karachi? Scores of Pakhtun-backed Awami National Party activists have been killed in the recent targeted attacks in Karachi. The party’s Sindh president Shahi Syed, a barrel-chested, acid-tongued businessman has been in meeting after meeting with the ruling coalition in an attempt to get a grip on the situation.

Statements after statements are issued. But what, if anything at all, is going on in the party ranks?

“They [ANP leaders] are in the government but have failed to provide security to their activists,” said Muhammad Ilyas, an ANP man of the Pir Mosque unit in Pirabad SITE Town. “They are pressuring us against lodging FIRs against the sector incharges of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).” The party’s men from Mangopir, Pirabad, SITE, Pathan Colony and Malir say they have lost more than 20 “friends” in the recent target killing carried out by the “criminals of a rival political party”.

They are angry and bitter that the party leaders had not supported them.

“One of our elders was killed last night,” says Ilyas as his voice trembles. “He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was killed just because he used to visit our unit [office].” While the ANP blames the MQM for the killings and holds the Pakistan Peoples Party responsible for failing to take action, a fair amount of the cadre’s ire is directed at Shahi Syed. “He and the others want to be in the government and save their skins,” says Ilyas, adding bitterly that “they didn’t even attend the funerals”.

The target killings in which mostly Pakhtun lost their lives has surfaced sporadically in Karachi. Each time the ruling parties put their heads together and the shots stop being fired. However, this month’s repetition of the bloodbath has nearly brought the party’s rank and file to its wits end. “From now on we will not follow the orders of the leadership,” thundered one activist. “We will take revenge. And if someone tries to enter our areas we will give a tit-fortat response.”

This is precisely what the government and the ANP has been trying to avoid, and indeed, for this young man’s angry words, further bloodshed has been largely avoided. But it is this sentiment that the government fears can get out of control. “We cannot wait anymore and see our friends getting killed,” says 32-year-old Ghulam Khan, an activist from unit No. 2 in Manghopir. “If our leaders are cowards and cannot protect us why should we sacrifice our lives for them?”

He says he was attacked and one of his comrades in arms was killed and four others were injured. Some of the violence has played out in Qasba Colony and Katti Pahar area. “We are settled in the mounds and they come uphill and attack us,” says Ghulam Khan. “But because of the party leadership we stayed quiet. Shahi Syed assured us that the police and security forces would come to our rescue but there was no development and now we are preparing to defend ourselves. Let them fire us from the party, we don’t care any more.”

Watching from the sidelines is the PakhtoonKhwa Milli Awami Party whose leaders have also criticized the ANP for “playing a double game”. “Pakhtoons are getting killed and the ANP does not care,” says Sher Ali, a provincial leader of the Balochistan-based PkMAP. “They are sitting in the government and are satisfied with that.” He was injured during an attempt at a target killing in Baldia. “They just count the bodies of the Pakhtoons and later on claim that they were their members. Why does the ANP present itself as the lone representative of the Pakhtoons. Why has the Pakhtoon Action Committee for all the Pakhtun from different political outfits been sidelined.”

A split has already taken place.

The Pakhtoon Students Federation (PkSF) leaders had also criticised the ANP leadership for ignoring the casualities of its activists and staying silent in the wake of earlier target killings of Pakhtoon students. Once considered the right arm of the ANP, the PkSF went its own way. “I joined the ANP as it claimed to be the protector of the rights of the Pakhtoons, and some of my friends are their local leaders,” says Anwar. “But now I am disappointed.”

For his part, the ANP’s Shahi Syed says that the party’s ideology is based on Bacha Khan’s philosophy of peace. “We condemn the killings and I am in constant contact with the chief minister and Rehman Malik,” he says, adding that he will not allow his party to be hijacked by “barbarians”. A further reaction comes in the shape of a stern warning that anyone who does not toe the party line, or follow the orders of the central leadership will be kicked out.

In part, his reasoning also holds water. “Let the security forces and courts punish the criminals,” he says. Political analyst Dr Muhammad Nazeer who has watching these developments told The Express Tribune that the ANP’s policies could negatively affect its vote bank in the coming local government elections. “A major chunk of its votes could go to the Jamaat-i- Islami.” Indeed, if these target killings are an effort to split the ANP, they could be spot on.


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