Political expediency, quest for short-term gains – by Ismail Khan

Source: Dawn
WHEN politics comes into play, everything else becomes secondary. Two tragic incidents, both avoidable, took a terrible toll of human life. To the northwest, jets pounded suspected militant positions and in the process, by the authorities’ own acknowledgement, killed 55 innocent civilians.

To the north, police clashed with protesters in Abbottabad, regional headquarters of Hazara division, and in the ensuing melee and violence, seven people lost their lives and scores others wounded.

One incident has been dubbed as an error of judgment, while the other has largely been described as a collective failure of the political leadership. Both the tragedies could have been averted. But, while the loss of innocent lives did not find a single word of sympathy anywhere, the other – at the heart of a political controversy, made headlines. Such are the ironies of politics.

But looking at the events leading to Monday’s violence in Abbottabad one feels that perhaps this is what the politicians wanted; stoke emotions to throw up a few bodies to further their political agenda in what hitherto has been one of the most peaceful areas of NWFP.

The PML-Q took the lead by stoking up the fire. Six of the nine leading figures of the anti-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa campaign were those who had lost elections, most of them to the PML-N candidates.

So it was not surprising why some veteran Leaguers who were out cooling their heels after the last elections so readily jumped on to the bandwagon to lend support to the cause.

The PML-N, which had accepted the name with a sackful of salt and a great deal of trepidation, not only kept quite and remained indifferent to simmering emotions, and some of its leaders from Abbottabad, too, appeared to be deliberately looking the other way.

Former chief minister Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, who voted against the amendment to change the name of NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, despite his party’s support for the move, was nowhere to be seen. It seemed a standard political strategy to push home a point: “I told you so”.

Therefore, while the top leadership of the two Muslim Leagues – Q & N – may have had different points of views on the 18th Constitutional Amendment and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, their leadership at the regional level, ironically, shared a common view and strategy, some say, with tacit approval from the top.

Clearly, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his Q League have come out a winner in this round, after having suffered a somewhat humiliating defeat in his hometown of Gujrat recently. His party has taken the lead and forced others to follow suit.

Their dislike for the Chaudhrys of Gujrat notwithstanding, the Sharifs of Raiwand find themselves caught in a situation where they would now have to seize the initiative back from the Q League.

This could mean serious troubles for the ANP and its long-cherished dream of changing the name of NWFP. And the ANP has to blame itself for this. Probably over-optimistic that the bill would go through the upper house of the parliament as smoothly as it did in the lower house, it played cool.

The party did not only fail to fully comprehend the dynamics of Hazara politics and the possible turf war between the two Leagues over the renaming issue, but also failed to adopt a proactive approach and reach out to allay the apprehensions of those opposing the new name.

Instead of reaching out, its leadership stayed put, hoping the passage of the bill in the Senate would automatically bring the temperature down and it would address the reservations of the anti-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa campaign, at its own convenience and time.

The bottom line is that because of violence the name issue is set to undergo a review process again, which means that the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill, probably will have to await its passage from the Senate for the time being. The PML-N and Q have already demanded a review of the name, something the ANP would not find itself comfortable to do. Already the ANP has been criticised by rival political parties of softening its stand by accepting a hyphenated name and, therefore, it may find it difficult, if not impossible, to further given in on the issue. It is a tough call for the ANP and probably a matter of reckoning.

This will throw a real challenge to the political parties. The options are quite limited. They will either have to forge a new consensus on the issue, get the ANP on board and persuade it to agree to a name acceptable to the non-Pakhtun belt of Hazara or get it passed with or without the ANP.

The responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the political parties, which are party to the crisis, to rise above petty politics and take steps to calm anger and defuse the issue which has already ignited ethnic tensions.

If what happened in Abbottabad was a trailer, think of what may happen in the rest of the NWFP if angry and frustrated ‘pro-name’ Pakhtun nationalist take to the streets to vent their anger over an issue that is increasingly being seen as set and determined by Punjab.

Already they are asking why did the media in Punjab overlook the killing of over 55 civilians in aerial bombings in Tirah but highlighted the death of seven people in rioting in Abbottabad. Any answer?



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