ANP stands divided among electables, ideologues

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–Party likely to suffer as more desertions on the cards

–Secretary general says leaders suspended over unabated violations of party discipline

ISLAMABAD: Awami National Party (ANP) senior leader and former MNA Jamila Gilani on Tuesday tendered resignation from the party in protest against the suspension of the basic membership of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar.

ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, who is in Moscow right now, had suspended the membership of the two leaders after they refuted allegations of being involved in ‘anti-party activities’ and dividing workers.

The party chief had invoked Article 2 of the party’s constitution for this purpose.

“The president can suspend a member or office-bearer of the party as a disciplinary measure which shall be ratified by the central executive committee in its first meeting,” reads the Article 2 of the ANP’s constitution.

Gilani, the party’s central joint secretary, told the media that she had resigned only from her party position. “Let us see what happens next,” she added, hinting at more resignations.

When contacted by Pakistan Today, Bushra Gohar also refused to speak further, saying that the written statements by her and Afrasiab Khattak should be considered as their final version over the issue.

Party insiders say that the decision reflects that the party was feeling the heat from the rising popularity of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) which had been eating away ANP’s political space among Pashtun nationalists.

“In the past, ANP was the only choice for Pashtun nationalists. However, space is being taken away by PTM, causing discomfort for Asfandyar Khan Wali who is already worried at the party’s dwindling popularity,” a senior ANP leader told Pakistan Today on the condition of anonymity.

When asked why the party had suspended the membership of Gohar and Khattak, the ANP leader said that Asfandyar Wali was largely uncomfortable with the two leaders for their increasing support for PTM.

“Despite several warnings by Asfandyar and his son, both ANP leaders kept supporting PTM’s cause which is clearly eating away his political space. The recent example is the way both Bushra and Khattak protested the arrest of PTM leader Hayat Parighal. Both were also running a campaign for the release of Parighal on social media despite repeated warnings,” the ANP leader added.

Another ANP leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there were already two major groups within the ANP but the rise of PTM had exposed the fissures.

“There is a group of electables who strongly believe in electoral politics. The group is based on purely political workers who believe in constituency politics like Bilours of Peshawar, Hotis of Mardan, etc. The other group is of ideologues that do not have any constituency and largely works for the Pashtun cause. This group is led by Afrasiab Khattak, Bushra Gohar, Zahid Khan and others,” the ANP leader said.

The source said that more resignations are likely and the ANP would suffer more due to a new wave of desertions.

Lehaz Ali, a Peshawar-based journalist, confirmed that Asfandyar Wali was worried by the continued support of Gohar and Khattak for PTM leaders and had directed the party’s ideological group to stay away from promoting PTM’s cause.

He said that one needs to understand that Khattak was not aligned to the ANP and was actually a Pashtun nationalist who had joined the party at a later stage.

“In his early age, Khattak was president of Democratic Students Federation (DSF) and worked with Afzal Khan Lala and others. He joined the ANP at a later stage,” he said.

“When both did not budge after indirect messages from Asfandyar, Aimal Wali Khan, the son of Asfandyar, invited the party’s top leadership at Bacha Khan Markaz before July elections and gave a clear-cut warning to all party leaders, saying that the ANP platform would not be allowed for the cause of PTM,” Lehaz Ali said.

He said that despite these warnings, the ANP duo kept supporting the PTM cause. However, he added, the recent drive by the two leaders on social media after the arrest of PTM leader Hayat Parighal became the boiling point and show cause notices were served to the two leaders.

Interestingly, in response to the show cause notices, both Khattak and Gohar chose to defend their stance.

Afrasiab took to Twitter to register his protest over the suspension decision.

“Political workers can be unfairly expelled from a political party but they cannot be expelled from politics. We shall steadfastly continue to struggle against all forms of oppression, suppression and exploitation. My heartfelt thanks to all dear friends for solidarity,” he tweeted.

“Will continue my political struggle for fundamental rights & justice in line with #FakhreAfghan #BachaKhan’s ideals. Suspension of my party membership is a very small sacrifice for my position. Let the struggle begin…,” responded Bushra Gohar.

In her written rejoinder, Gohar reacted harshly, accusing Asfandyar Wali of deviating from the teachings of Bacha Khan, insisting that she was following the party manifesto and teachings of Bacha Khan.

In response to the show cause notice, Gohar insisted that she had followed Bacha Khan’s philosophy and party’s constitution, manifesto and policies to the best of her understanding and abilities.

“You (Asfandyar) could identify the issues listed below which the party might consider to have inadvertently caused harm to its overall interests and policies,” she said, adding, “In my opinion, it would be counterproductive to respond to the notice based on mere speculations and assumptions.” She also suggested a discussion on the matter at the relevant forums of the party.

Gohar, who had served as MNA from 2008 to 2013, said that as a party member, she had focused her attention on the issues, including democracy and human rights, people’s equal rights to education, health, and livelihood, the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), demilitarisation of the state and society, campaign against Talibanisation, religious extremism and regional peace, freedom of movement, and development.

She said that in the absence of a charge sheet or relevant details of the alleged activities, she was genuinely at a loss to give a satisfactory response to the show cause notice.

In his three-page rejoinder, Afrasiab Khattak said that meetings of the party’s relevant forums should be convened to discuss the allegations levelled against him and other party leaders thoroughly.

“I understand that the party is under pressure … while the non-state actor card is also used. The party should call a meeting of relevant forums to find out solutions to the problems,” he said without elaborating further.

ANP SAYS LEADERS SUSPENDED OVER UNABATED VIOLATIONS:

Talking to Pakistan Today, ANP Secretary General Sardar Hussain Babak said that the two senior party leaders were suspended for their unabated violations of party discipline. When asked what violations were made by the duo, Babak said that in this age of social media and information technology, nobody could hide behind lame excuses.

“The party is alive to its responsibility and it would ensure that its members strictly adhere to discipline. Nobody can fool anyone anymore,” he said.

When asked if the two leaders were suspended for their support of the PTM cause, Babak said that the two leaders knew of their violations.

“If anyone has reservations over the party policy, there are ample forums to take up such matters. However, it is unethical to knowingly violate the party policy despite repeated instructions,” he concluded.