Balochistan Awami Party Establishes Presence in KP Assembly
The residents of erstwhile FATA will remember 27th of August, 2019, as a remarkable day as representatives of five million people from the tribal areas entered the provincial assembly for the first time.
The visitor halls and press galleries of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly were crowded with residents and journalists hailing from tribal districts. They were cheering the oath-taking ceremony of their 19 candidates, who had entered the assembly after the abolition of the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation and the merger of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Following the 25th constitutional amendment, elections were announced. People from various walks of life expressed the reservation that elections in the volatile areas were not possible due to various hindrances, the most serious of which was the threat of terrorism.
However, as time passed, increased participation in political campaigns was witnessed. For the first time, people from various political parties were seen participating in corner meetings, gatherings and rallies.
Meanwhile, political pundits predicted that the ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, would sweep the elections as they already had six members of the National Assembly from former FATA.
But results of the provincial elections were different as against these predictions, PTI only won five seats out of the 16, while 6 seats were won by independent candidates.
There were predictions that all the six independent candidates would join the ruling PTI as is the norm in the political culture of the country, whereby candidates fight as independents and later join the party which has electorally been the most successful. These predictions were proven wrong after three of the independent candidates announced their political future with the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in a surprise move despite BAP having no presence in the province of KP nor did it participate in the election.
The BAP, which was launched by traditionally strong, pro-establishment politicians before the July 2018 electoral battle with the aim of dealing with Balochistan’s issues, has suddenly become a factor in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s politics.
According to veteran journalist and analyst Rahimullah Yousafzai, this is the first time that a party based in Balochistan has gotten seats in the KP Assembly. This development is interesting as BAP had made no effort to establish its organisational setup in KP and had not even considered contesting election in the province.
The group of independent candidates was being led by Al-Hajj Shahji Gul Afridi, who is a former MNA and a hardcore supporter of the FATA-KP merger. Shahji Gul, who lost the 25th July elections to Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, belongs to a wealthy family of Khyber District and one of his close aides believes that his election campaign’s cost in the last general elections was more than 250 million rupees.
Shahji Gul Afridi is considered close to the Pakistani establishment and some analysts believe that he was prompted for the merger process in exchange for an assured victory in the general elections of 2018. The promise, however, was not fulfilled due to larger interests.
In the recent elections in erstwhile FATA, the three candidates who won their seats and later joined the BAP party are Bilawal Afridi, the son of Shahji Gul Afridi, Shafiq Sher Afridi, Shahji Gul’s nephew, and Abbas Rehman, the brother of Senator Hilal-u-Rehman, a political influential from a wealthy family who contested from Mohmand tribal district.
According to media reports, Shahjee Gul Afridi contacted the head of BAP Jam Mir Kamal Khan Alyani, who is also the chief minister of Balochistan, and expressed the wish to join his party. On the other hand, a close friend of his is of the belief that he was pressurised by the establishment to join BAP.
A senior journalist from Islamabad, on the condition of anonymity, said that in the past, these types of political parties were launched by the powerful establishment of the country to gain their objectives by indirectly using the floor of the parliament. He added that Balochistan Awami Party is a continuity of that process. He further said that nowhere in the world will you see that a party with no experience in a particular area will have candidates from that area joining it. This, he added, was a new experience in the country’s history.
“Preparation for launching BAP across the country is underway and offices in different cities have been operationalised to show strength in the upcoming elections,” he concluded.
The author is a reporter based in Islamabad.