For some, change is a slogan. For the Pashuntkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), it’s a reality. This party, once a bastion of Pashtun nationalism in Balochistan, has now opened its doors to Punjabi, Baloch and Hazara candidates as well.
It’s also trying to move beyond its traditional electorate by fielding a large number of candidates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), FATA and a good number in Punjab and Sindh as well, for both national and provincial assemblies’ seats.
According to official statistics the PkMAP has nominated about 125 candidates in all.
Up until recently, the PkMAP was criticized by its rivals for being a Pashtun nationalist party with a ‘parochial’ political approach towards the non-Pashtun people of Balochistan.
Zahiruddin Babar Rajput, a resident of Quetta who is of Punjabi origin, has been awarded a party ticket to contest for the provincial assembly seat, PB 1 (Quetta 1) against another Punjabi speaking candidate, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s Saeed Ahmed Hashmi.
Rajput’s other rival is Hindko-speaking Tahir Mehmood, an experienced parliamentarian who belongs to the PML-N. While his forefathers migrated to Quetta from Mansehra decades ago, he himself claims to be Punjabi, apparently to gain the support of Punjabi residents of Quetta.
“To us, those Punjabis who have been living in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan for decades are not settlers but part of us,” said Muhammad Akram Shah, central secretary general of the PkMAP.
Another non-Pashtun candidate of the PkMAP is Agha Muhammad Ali Hazara, a member of the Hazara community, is contesting the PB 2 (Quetta 2 seat), and will be facing off against two other candidate of his community, the PPP’s Jan Ali Changezi and Abdul Khaliq Hazara of the Hazara Democratic party.
Punjabi and Urdu-speaking ‘settlers’, two dominating ethnicities in Quetta, had never been in the fold of PkMAP due to its exclusively pro-Pashtun policies in the past. That changed when party chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai raised his voice in support of those who had to flee from Balochistan after the killing of settlers in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan during the last six years.
Another factor that resulted in settlers tilting towards the PkMAP was that none of them were harmed in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan.
And there are clear political dividends for the PkMAP as well. According to political observers, this move will muster enough support from Punjabis and Hazaras for Achakzai to have a better chance at winning the national assembly seat he is contesting for.
It is worth mentioning here that the PML (N) is also supporting Mehmood Khan Achakzai on this seat as it had already withdrawn its candidates in favour of him.
Two Baloch candidates, Muhammad Bakhsh Mengal and Muhammad Ali Bhangar, are also among the non-Pashtun nominees of the PkMAP for national and provincial assembly seats respectively. Both of them are contesting from the Baloch-dominated areas of the province, and the PkMAP has also nominated its Pashtu-speaking candidates from the Baloch belt.
It is significant to note that none of the Baloch nationalist parties have ever nominated any candidates in the Pashtun belt.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2013.