There are a number of ethno-nationalist parties working in the four provinces of Pakistan, but only those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have enough vote bank to win seats in the assemblies.
The existence of such parties in Punjab is negligible. Though there are several small parties espousing the Seraiki province cause in southern districts of the province, they have yet to win seats in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly.
Eight Seraiki nationalist parties had formed an alliance, Seraikistan Awami Ittehad, to campaign for the creation of the fifth province in the country in southern Punjab, but neither assembly seats could be won nor the Seraiki province created. Those seeking Seraiki province have mostly been joining major political parties, such as the PPP, PML-N and PTI in the hope of gaining influence to achieve their objective.
There are quite a few Sindhi nationalist parties that are active and vocal. The splintering of the Sindhi nationalist parties has divided their vote bank and made it difficult for these small factions to win seats. The Jeay Sindh Mahaz, founded by late G M Syed in 1972, is the oldest nationalist party in Sindh, but it split into factions and was weakened.
Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, grandson of G M Syed who was once elected MPA from Dadu district, is now head of the Sindh United Party. Former Sindh chief minister, Mumtaz Bhutto, is heading the Sindh National Front, but success in the polls has often eluded him despite making alliances with mainstream political parties. He was also a founding member of the now defunct Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) that brought together several Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Seraiki nationalist parties.
Other Sindhi nationalist parties like Rasool Bux Palijo’s Awami Tehrik and Dr Qadir Magsi’s Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party work at the grassroots level, but have been unable to attract voters who drift toward the PPP in every general election.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is home to the Awami National Party (ANP), the oldest and largest party of Pakhtun nationalists in Pakistan and the successor to the erstwhile National Awami Party (NAP) that was banned by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which was headed by Sardar Sherbaz Mazari and Begum Nasim Wali Khan.
Despite being led by Abdul Wali Khan, an ethnic Pakhtun, the NAP was able to bring together Bengali, Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch and even Punjabi nationalists, but it did well in the elections only in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), renamed in 2010 as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan.
The 2008 general election brought happy news for the ANP as it got enough seats to elect its first chief minister, Ameer Haider Hoti, after Pakistan’s independence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by forming a coalition government with the PPP. Five years later though in the 2013 polls, the ANP suffered its worst defeat as Imran Khan’s PTI swept the polls in the province. It was routed in the polls primarily due to the strong perception that its leadership had committed corruption while in power.
The ANP is still struggling to make a comeback. It seems the party under Asfandyar Wali Khan would do better than the 2013 polls, but it won’t be enough to upstage the PTI. As there would be the usual coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following the 2018 election, the ANP could become part of that or opt to stay in the opposition.
The ANP also has pockets of support in Balochistan, but at the best of times it translates into a seat or two in the provincial assembly. The Pashtun nationalist vote in Balochistan usually goes to the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). However, the PkMAP doesn’t have any vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or the adjoining Fata.
The party had done well in Balochistan in the 2013 election and its leader, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, through his alliance with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Hasil Bizenjo’s National Party managed to form the provincial government. His candidates, including some of his relatives, won assembly seats and his brother, Mohammad Khan Achakzai, was made Governor of Balochistan by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
If the past is any guide, the PkMAP and its main rival, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, take turns to win elections in the Pashtun areas in Balochistan. As the previous polls in Balochistan were won by the PkMAP, the next could go the JUI-F way.
The National Party, like the PkMAP, too could suffer in the next election from the incumbency factor. If that were to happen, its loss would herald gains for Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal’s BNP. The Baloch nationalist parties are splintered and weak and this situation favours the religio-political parties, such as the JUI-F and also the PPP and PML-N operating nationwide.
Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party, too, is now a nationalist party as it has changed its political discourse to highlight and demand Pakhtun rights. It has limited appeal though and manages to win some assembly seats to stay relevant in provincial politics.
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A new star in the political horizon is the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, which rose from Fata and is now trying to find support for its cause in all Pashto-speaking areas in Pakistan. Though its five-point agenda is confined to conflict-hit Fata and highlights the need for giving respect instead of humiliating the tribal Pashtuns, its growing popularity could make it a factor in the next general election and affect the chances of the older Pashtun nationalist parties.
The electoral alliances that would be made for the coming election, the delimitation of assembly constituencies that has provoked protests by the political parties and voters, the revival of the alliance of religio-political parties, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) which draws most of its support in the Pakhtun-populated areas, and the use of money are some of the other factors that would impact the outcome of the coming polls.