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In Asfandyar Wali Khan’s defence

by Gulmina Bilal

Asfandyar Wali Khan has fled the country. Or so people will have you believe. In recent days, friends and family have bombarded me with questions and snide remarks about his whereabouts. Some have found this to be an excellent material for text-message jokes about Mr Wali. Others have expressed disappointment and anger. People ask as to how Asfandyar can “run away” in fear from a terrorist attack? How he could have accepted the security of the Presidency? How can he claim to be the leader of the Pakhtuns when he has left them in the lurch, they ask? Does he really expect to be accepted as the leader of the Pakhtuns now that he has left the province burning in the violent extremist fire? His critics ask as to how come he did not commiserate with the people injured in the suicide bomb blast over Eid? How can he leave the province when it is facing acute flour shortage? How can he leave the province when the internally displaced people of Bajaur Agency are in agony?

Another set of allegations against the Awami National Party and the person of Asfandyar Wali is that they have received money from the US to turn a blind eye towards US clandestine and overt activities in the province. Rumours abound of dollars being brought in suitcases into the party headquarters—i.e., the Bacha Khan Markaz in Peshawar. I must confess that initially when these rumours surfaced I countered them with jokes like “suitcases get heavy. We accept online transfers and even American Express.” However, in a country which thrives on rumour mongering, and that too political rumour mongering, I decided to give my point of view. This article is an attempt to do that, although it is not being written at either the party’s or the party’s behest. The views expressed are strictly my own.

Asfandyar Wali Khan has not fled the country. He is away from the country, no doubt, and is busy with personal and party commitments abroad. Undoubtedly, I would imagine that he must be concerned about his security. Anyone who has even been mugged, let alone been the target of a suicide attack, would be. How many of us have started avoided crowded places like high profile hotels in the wake of suicide bombings in the country? Why can’t political leaders be allowed to confess that they are concerned about their own security? Sure, they have more responsibility. That is why it is said that you should never congratulate anyone for winning an election. His/her life just got tougher because of the responsibilities that come with the election. Asfandyar Wali Khan is the leader of a party that has been voted into power by the majority of the inhabitants of Pukhtunkhwa. He therefore has more responsibility and it is precisely this responsibility that makes him the subject of suicide attacks, rumours, snide remarks from his critics and heightened expectations by his supporters.

No one is denying that the country as a whole, and the province of Pakhtunkhwa in particular, is confronted with the worst ever challenges. The list of these challenges is long and all equally important. For instance, when we talk about security, we have to talk about all kinds of security, including food security, energy security and, the most basic of all, life security. The people of Swat and Bajaur are particularly insecure, adding internal displacement to the problem. However, is it realistic to expect that Asfandyar Wali Khan visit each and every refugee of the Bajaur camp?

He is the leader of the party and not the party itself. To say that the “party has folded” just because one individual is out of the country is to dispense with the whole party politics structure and democracy. Other leaders and parliamentarians and members of the party are very much in the country, in their constituencies, in the government and are trying to address the problems confronting the province. They are facing the same threats of violence and bombs, yet they trudge along. Of course, some of them are taking security measures, such as not flying official flags on their cars, as the media has reported, but is that to be taken as a sign of cowardice? Is it cowardice to protect yourself, or is it intelligence? A three-year- old child will take risks because s/he does not have a concept of fear. Adults protect themselves because intelligence has taught them the concept of fear.

The people are well within their right to expect the ANP-PPP coalition government to provide them security. Perhaps, in some cases the government can do a lot more. But, then, if we look at the politics of the region, can we honestly say that this is a 100 day old problem which has not been resolved by the almost 240 days old government? Isn’t the challenge confronting us complex and multi-faceted with numerous reasons, interests, players and implications? Are the people of Bajaur internally displaced today only because of the alleged incompetence of the ANP-PPP coalition government? Is Swat a no- go area because the provincial government is allegedly complacent? Are the people concerned about bombs going off just because Asfandyar Wali is not in the country?

As for the other allegation of the “dollars in suitcases,” given so that the ANP will turn a blind eye, consider the following: Newspapers every day are publishing reports of how the ANP leaders are being threatened by the extremists. Their houses are being fired upon. Will you accept money to turn a blind eye against acts committed against yourself, your families and property? Also, if one were to be politically cynical one could perhaps also ask as to whether the Americans really need to spend money to get things done their way? Over the years, haven’t we as a country been losing parts of our sovereignty anyways?

Years ago, the late Wali Khan penned a book titled Facts are Facts. Perhaps we need to seek new facts and divorce them from baseless rumours.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance consultant and a member of the Awami National Party. Email: gbaanp@ (Daily The News)