Fear of targeted killing by the Taliban knocking at the door of Peshawar has forced the leadership of key secular parties to stay inside, thus providing an open field to the religious and pro-Taliban elements to win the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands rendered homeless by the recent devastating floods in the country.
Both the provincial and central governments, owing to their meager resources and non-preparedness to meet such calamities, responded when the floods and rains had completed their job and the religious charities — always coming out with a quicker response partly because of the force of their volunteers and partly because of their propaganda — outdid the government by helping the trapped people, providing shelter, cooked food, warm clothes and emergency health services.
The absence of the government, if on the one hand invited the anger of the affected people, also attracted them to embrace the pro-jihadi religious parties and their affiliated charities, which were rapidly losing ground and the trust of the people in the face of the increasing number of civilian casualties in bomb attacks in cities and towns across Pakistan.
Being a cash-strapped province and bitterly shaken by the wave of terrorism in the past few years, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is incapable of a swift response to the deluge and reaching all the affected areas at once. However, the affected people are expecting the leadership of the ruling secular party, the Awami National Party (ANP), to visit them and share the grief and shock they are passing through. But no leader, either from the ANP or the Pakistan People’s Party, visited any of the troubled areas, thus increasing the grievances of the people.
As is obvious, the leadership is faced with an imminent threat from the Taliban, who killed a police chief at the time when the whole of the province was passing through a state of awe and shock in the face of the worst-ever floods in recent history. Earlier, the son of a provincial minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, known for his outspoken remarks against militants, was shot dead and then a suicide attack was carried out in front of the minister’s house where people were gathered to mourn the death of his son.
In such a situation, the central leadership of the ANP, which has been the vanguard of the anti-terror war since its coming into power in the province in 2008, cannot come out into the open to extend their sympathies to the flood-affected people despite calls from certain quarters, inside and outside the party, to block the way of the religious elements. It is as if the leaders of nationalist and secular parties, despite being in power, are hostages in their villas in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and they have no trust or doubt the loyalty of the security agencies supposed to ensure their security.
The result of the continuous absence of the secular and nationalist elements from the scene, particularly at a time when the calamity stricken people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa want their leadership to be among them, will obviously be in favor of the rightist and pro-jihadist parties, who seldom condemn the Taliban attacks on civilians, let alone the attacks on the Pakistani security forces or the NATO forces on the other side of the border.
On the contrary, the religious parties and their affiliated charities and welfare wings with some pro-jihadi elements are already on the ground providing relief to the affected people along with carrying forward their propaganda campaign against the government. As not a single elected government in Pakistan has completed its five-year term since 1988 (barring the Musharraf crafted set-up of 2002-2007), and the existing one also seemingly destined to meet the same fate in the face of its declining popularity graph, the religious parties appear to be waiting to take the treasury seats again in case of any political change in the future.
The results are obvious if any such change occurs. Many of us still have vivid memories of the Taliban rule in Swat in our minds when the MMA government was in place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from 2002 to 2007. In a situation where the secular leadership is almost secluded and cornered for fear of terrorist attacks, the militants will find new bases of support both from the (future) government and the masses, who are fed up and frustrated with the efforts sluggishly underway for their rescue and rehabilitation. Thus the calamity, which should have been used to promote national unity and cohesion, may serve to further strengthen the elements supporting the militants or having a soft corner in their hearts for them.