With the assassination of Haroon Bilour on July 10, the Awami National Party (ANP) has lost another of its popular leaders. The loss is unbearable for the Bilour family that has lost dozens of its leaders and hundreds of its workers in the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. Their losses are not a cause of concern for only the ANP, they have caused injuries of catastrophic proportions to democracy itself.
True, that other parties have also lost their political leaders to violence and our security forces too have sacrificed thousands of lives, so why talk about the ANP?
Those who keep repeating their mistakes, tell us not to talk about the past. They try to appear forward-looking when they stress the importance of the future over the past. But, it is precisely the neglect of history that prevents us from understanding our society.
So what is the ANP and why is it being targeted again and again? To understand this we need to look back at least a century earlier. You may argue that this ANP is not the true inheritor of its glorious past that boasted of great leaders such as Bacha Khan. The same argument is presented against the PPP by stressing that its present leadership has deviated from the path of the original Bhuttos. This argument has some truth in it, but it needs to be put in its proper perspective.
Almost a century ago, there emerged in the north-west of the British India a leader who was a towering personality not only in the physical sense of the word but also in its political and social connotations. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan popularly known as Bacha Khan tried to reshape the destiny of his people.
As we know, traditionally the north-west or the Pashto speaking areas of the sub-continent have been an overly conservative and religious society. It is not the hallmark of the Pashto-speaking areas alone. Wherever you see a combination of religiosity coupled with tribalism and generational feuds, you see violence.
In this violence-prone society, there have been preachers and Sufi saints who talked about peace and tried to create a sense of harmony and tolerance in society. Bacha Khan was one of them. He single-handedly tried to mould the Pakhtun people into a non-violent breed. Bacha Khan was inspired by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi. Contrary to what our history books try to teach us, Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century India. He preached non-violence and believed in religious harmony.
The inspiration that Bacha Khan received from Gandhi was two-fold. One, to fight against foreign domination and oppression, and two, do it in a non-violent manner. Both Bacha Khan and Gandhi had established themselves as great leaders and indomitable fighters for independence and democracy, much before the demand to divide India on religious grounds gained momentum. Bacha Khan considered himself a leader of all Pashto-speaking people, including those who lived in Afghanistan and wanted to bridge the gap between India and Afghanistan. He was a nationalist who did not oppose any other nation. He was a practising Muslim without coming into conflict with other religions.
By the 1940s, Bacha Khan had already spent many years of his life in prison. By 1947s, his politics of keeping India united had failed.
From 1947 to 1957, Bacha Khan was humiliated, imprisoned, and persecuted, multiple times. When democracy was being uprooted and democratic leaders were hounded, Bacha Khan was at the forefront of the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. Though he was a staunch Muslim, his politics remained secular i.e. stressing upon the separation of religion from state.
His efforts culminated in 1957 in the formation of the National Awami Party (NAP) that was the first incarnation of the present-day ANP. To form NAP, most liberal, progressive, and secular leaders of Pakistan had cooperated with each other. That was the party with widespread popular support across Pakistan with a clear agenda of pro-people politics. After the promulgation of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956, elections were supposed to be held within two years. But the ruling clique comprising civil and military bureaucrats kept postponing the elections for fear of the National Awami Party and other liberal and progressive forces.
In October 1958, the first country-wide martial law was declared in Pakistan and soon all political parties were banned and banished. Those who wonder about the violence in Pakistan should read the non-textbook history of Pakistan of that period. Uprooting democracy, eradicating political parties, demolishing institutions of public representation at the highest level, and scrapping the first constitution of Pakistan was violence of the highest order. With all political parties banned, all public activities forcibly shut down, most politicians expelled from the political arena, and the right to free speech abolished, violence was the name of the game.
The violence of the 1960s was manifest in the new presidential constitution given by a self-appointed president, self-promoted field marshal, and self-styled saviour of the nation who put the country on the path of disintegration. The violence of that period was evident in the massive rigging of the elections by General Ayub Khan and his state machinery. And Bacha Khan with his National Awami Party, was one of the leaders who bore the brunt of state violence. He stood fast with Fatima Jinnah in her fight for democracy against a usurper general. Bacha Khan and his party NAP, had to pay a heavy price for their devotion to democracy.
After 1971, in the rump Pakistan, NAP formed coalition governments in Balochistan and the NWFP (now KP). This time around it was not the military establishment directly led by a dictator, but a civilian government that was led to target NAP. By now, Bacha Khan had become a septuagenarian and his torch was carried forward by his son Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Bhutto’s reign continued on the path of violence against progressive politics. Though now the PPP claims that it was done at the behest of the establishment, it was essentially the Bhutto-led government that made the decisions, willingly or unwillingly is not an excuse.
A conspiracy case was set up against the NAP leadership that was put behind bars, humiliated, declared traitors, foreign agents, and what not. The traitor Nawaz Sharif is only a new boy in the block, before him most politicians have been declared the same by the same machine. So the violence continued against NAP, only to be stopped temporarily by the new usurper, General Ziaul Haq.
The violence spread in the 1980s did not stop in the 1990s. Those who were eager to claim the credit for the ‘victory’ in Afghanistan were soon using violence against each other much in the same way as was predicted by Wali Khan and BB; and many other journalists such as I A Rehman, and intellectuals such as Dr Eqbal Ahmed. Lack of attention to sane advice in the 1980s resulted in even more violence in the 1990s. We continued on our path of creating and arming first the Mujahideen and then the Taliban. And you want us not to talk about history?