With the recent eruption of violence in Karachi, much has been written about the city’s largest political force, the MQM. History of Karachi’s other major player, the PPP, is also well documented mainly due to the fact that it remains the country’s biggest political party.
The ANP is not a new phenomenon. A Pashtun nationalist party, but its roots lie in a rather vibrant left-wing entity, the National Awami Party (NAP). Formed in 1957, NAP emerged when a number of small left-wing parties pooled their members and resources. Packed with the leading lights of Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Bengali nationalists, NAP surfaced as a strong party whose main aims included the dismantling of the hated ‘One Unit’ system (that clubbed all of West Pakistan as a single provincial unit), the imposition of a socialist economy, the implementation of a non-aligned foreign policy and the recognition of Pakistan’s varied ethnicities as separate nations as opposed to this being a nation of Islam.
Many commentators believe that had a general election taken place in the late 1950s, NAP would have emerged as the country’s leading party. With the taking over of power (through a military coup) by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1958, NAP, along with all other political parties, was banned. After the ban on political parties was lifted in 1962, NAP reorganised itself.
Incidentally, this was also the time when an intra-ideological split also opened up between the Soviets and the Chinese. The split affected a number of Marxist outfits all over the world, including NAP with its Bengali leader, Maulana Bhashani, taking a more pro-China/Maoist line and Pashtun leader, Wali Khan, taking a pro-Soviet stand. A similar split also appeared in the student organisation close to NAP, the National Students Federation (NSF). The split spilled out into the open in 1967 at the start of the left-wing student and workers’ protest movement against the Ayub dictatorship.
The pro-China group became NAP (Bhashani) and the pro-Soviet group became NAP (Wali). Interestingly, many Bhashani members and student leaders joined the emergent PPP, making the Wali group of NAP the stronger faction. Another, more radical Maoist group from NAP broke away to form the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP).
It was NAP (Wali) — now studded with Pashtun and Baloch nationalists — that managed to win an impressive number of seats in KP and Balochistan in the 1970 elections that were otherwise swept by the PPP in West Pakistan and the Awami League in the country’s eastern wing. After East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, NAP (Wali) managed to form coalition governments in KP and Balochistan. However, the PPP regime led by Z A. Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government, accusing NAP of fermenting Baloch rebellion against the state and being funded by the Soviet Union.
Angered by Bhutto’s actions against the NAP government on Balochistan, the NAP-led government in KP resigned. NAP was banned again in 1973 when radical Baloch groups began an armed insurgency against the Bhutto regime. To crush the insurgency Bhutto used the Pakistan military and helicopters given to Pakistan by the Shah of Iran. Almost all NAP leaders were arrested and jailed for treason.
Attempts were made to revive NAP after the fall of the Bhutto regime in 1977. And though it was the Zia dictatorship that had squashed the treason cases against NAP leaders, Zia soon came down hard on leftist forces and NAP’s reformation was thwarted. Nevertheless, when in 1986 PPP co-Chairman Benazir Bhutto returned from exile in 1986 and began taking the Zia dictatorship on, some former Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi NAP leaders finally managed to revive the party, this time calling it the Awami National Party.
By the late 1980s, however, after ANP’s Baloch and Sindhi leaders broke away and formed their own nationalist groups, ANP watered down the old NAP’s hard Marxist rhetoric and became exclusively a secular and left-liberal Pashtun nationalist party.
As an electoral entity, ANP’s performance was mixed in KP. Throughout the 1990s it got into various alliances with the PPP and PML-N, none of them successful.
Even though KP’s Pashtun dominated areas have been electoral strongholds of ANP, JUI and PPP, in Karachi the Pashtuns had mostly been electorally aligned with NAP and then ANP. All this changed in the 2002 elections when ANP was almost wiped out by religious parties (MMA) in KP. Nevertheless, during the discrediting of the Musharraf dictatorship in 2007 and rising unpopularity of the right-wing MMA government in KP, ANP bounced back during the 2008 elections, bagging the majority of seats in KP.
A rapid rise in Karachi’s Pashtun population (between 1998 and 2008), saw ANP’s vote bank in the city almost double and for the first time it managed to win seats in Karachi. But in Karachi, ANP has had to make certain adjustments, because this is a city where political parties have, from the 1980s onwards, found the need to maintain militant youth groups as well as patronise their favourite street thugs.
The MQM, the PPP and the ANP are now embroiled in this phenomenon, a phenomenon that was ironically first introduced by the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) in the late 1970s. This is why ANP’s political idioms in KP may sound a tad different than its rhetoric in Karachi.