The ANP fell on its knees during the signing of the Swat peace deal with the terrorists. ANP circles have anonymously claimed that suicide bombers were sent to the top leaders to force them to sign the peace deal. If they refused, they would have been killed on the spot

It has been quite a few days now since the top leaders of the Pakhtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP), have been issuing strange statements. The party chief, Asfandyar Khan, described NATO’s pursuit of terrorists into FATA as a “clear violation of international law and a blow to Pakistan’s sovereignty”. The party’s provincial president, Afrasiab Khattak, condemned the US drone attacks on terrorists in FATA and claimed that innocent tribespersons were being killed in the drone strikes. ANP’s senior provincial minister, Bashir Bilour, also condemned the US drone strikes and NATO incursions into FATA in pursuit of the terrorists who retreated into their safe havens in FATA following attacks in Afghanistan. Above all, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly condemned NATO incursions and the US drone attacks.

This is certainly not the ANP expressing itself with free will and consent. This is an ANP speaking under duress. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is forcing the ANP leaders to issue such statements. The Americans have put intense pressure on the Pakistani generals through relentless drone attacks that have considerably damaged their strategic assets, the jihadis that the ISI has been keeping in FATA for terrorism in Afghanistan. It seems the Pakistan generals cannot face the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan on their own. They simply force unarmed Pakhtun civilians through extreme torture and violence to associate themselves with the Taliban so as to feign the front of an indigenous Pakhtun resistance to the designs of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan. This pattern of utmost coercion was implemented all over FATA whereby everyone — tribal leaders, the ulema, government servants, community elders, teachers, healthcare workers — who might have the courage to challenge the ISI’s managed chaos in FATA were target killed. In the garb of fake military operations, vast areas of FATA were extracted from the writ of the state and put under the writ of the terrorists. The same pattern was gradually extended to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The strange statements coming from the ANP leadership must be seen in this context.

This is strange because the ANP is clearly speaking with two tongues. The ANP is a signatory of the Peshawar Declaration, signed in February 2010, which categorically supports the drone strikes in FATA and holds the Pakistani military establishment responsible for terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially in FATA. Moreover, due to its ethnic, tribal and political affiliations with people in FATA, the ANP knows very well that the drone strikes are precisely killing the terrorists, and the people in the drone-hit areas welcome them. Privately, the ANP leaders support the drone attacks. They hold the Pakistani generals responsible for terrorism and violence in FATA and Afghanistan. They want the terror centres in FATA, under the auspices of the ISI, to be destroyed and they do not mind if the US or NATO forces do so since the Pakistani generals do not seem to be interested in giving up their jihadi adventures from the soil of FATA.

Should the ANP be forgiven for speaking with two tongues under duress? It is not the first time the ANP has succumbed to such pressures. The ANP fell on its knees during the signing of the Swat peace deal with the terrorists. ANP circles have anonymously claimed that suicide bombers were sent to the top leaders to force them to sign the peace deal. If they refused, they would have been killed on the spot and so they had to sign the deal even if they were not prepared for it.

Moreover, under pressure from the military establishment, the ANP government has stopped supporting the anti-Taliban lashkars all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, lashkars that the provincial government initially supported with enthusiasm. The lashkar leaders accuse the ANP of abandoning them. “They (the ANP government) have ditched us in the middle of an ocean,” said one leader of the Adezai anti-Taliban lashkar in an interview with me.

The saddest part is that the ANP compliance under duress is obliterating the precious difference between the nationalist ANP and pro-Taliban religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). For example, the ANP stands for provincial autonomy. So does the JI. The ANP demands more share in the electricity royalty for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So does the JI. The only difference is that the JI supports the ISI-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan and denounces all international efforts to cleanse Afghanistan of jihadi gangs, whereas the ANP stands for the opposite. Through these recent statements against the drone attacks, the ANP appears just like the JI. This is certainly a success of the ISI’s agenda to present all Pakhtuns to the wider world as pro-Taliban, pro-jihad and religious extremists, who are against the international community’s efforts against jihad in FATA and Afghanistan. Can the anti-Taliban Pakhtun afford an ‘Islamic’ ANP even if it is under duress?

The anti-Taliban Pakhtun need an ANP that is a firm embodiment of anti-Taliban, anti-religious extremism and one that is pro-civilisation. By and large, the ANP has been so and, no doubt, the party has greatly sacrificed through the blood of its elected leaders, workers and their close relatives. The challenge at hand, however, is colossal and demands more blood from the ANP. The ANP must now stand up to the occasion, come what may.

It is expected of the ANP leaders to resist this intimidation and blackmail. Of course, this means more assassinations among the leading ANP families and even the killing of top party leaders. The top party leaders must be ready for such an eventuality. If they are not, they should step aside and leave the party leadership to those among the ANP who might be willing to firmly resist all intimidation and blackmail even at the cost of personal sacrifices. These recent statements and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly resolution show that the current ANP leadership is either too soft or compromised to lead the anti-Taliban Pakhtun.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban