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Family Feud Rocks Secular Pakistani Party From Within

ANP leader Asfandiyar Wali Khan, accused by ANP lawmaker Azam Khan Hoti of being an "incompetent, corrupt sell-out."
ANP leader Asfandiyar Wali Khan, accused by ANP lawmaker Azam Khan Hoti of being an "incompetent, corrupt sell-out."
Already reeling from a humiliating electoral defeat, one of Pakistan's most venerable secular parties now sees its future threatened by an ugly family feud.

The spat between father and sons has escalated into an open war of words between two of the most powerful families in the Awami National Party (ANP). As the fight plays out in public, it is not only damaging the ANP's reputation but also jeopardizing the party's efforts to regain its political position after losing in parliamentary elections in May.

For months, a disagreement between ANP lawmaker Azam Khan Hoti and his two sons, who refused to accept the elderly man's second wife, simmered behind the scenes in the conservative northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Eventually, Hoti caved in to pressure from his sons and his first wife's politically connected family and moved his bride into a separate home in the provincial capital, Peshawar.

Hoti, though, then retaliated by accusing his first wife's brother, ANP leader Asfandiyar Wali Khan, of being an incompetent, corrupt sell-out. He publicly accused Khan of receiving hefty sums from Washington in exchange for supporting the war on terrorism in Pakistan's northwestern Pashtun regions, a traditional ANP stronghold.

"I can say with confidence," Hoti said, "that the Awami National Party has been sold out. According to a cautious estimate, some $35 million exchanged hands."

Hoti accused Khan of using the funds to purchase commercial and residential properties in Dubai and Malaysia, even as some 800 party supporters paid with their lives for the ANP's opposition to the Pakistani Taliban.

The claims erupted into a full-blown scandal reported closely in the media. Hoti's oldest son, Amir Haider Hoti, publicly turned against his father.

"Even if Asfandiyar Wali Khan has some private business, if you saw the amount invested you might be prompted to send donations to his home," Hoti's son said. "What is being politicized here is basically a family dispute."

Smear Campaign?

Some within the ANP believe the party is being smeared in an effort to split its ranks and weaken it from within.

For years the ANP took pride in standing up to the Taliban's radical Islamist ideology, which came at the cost of losing hundreds of supporters and leaders to insurgent attacks.

After losing soundly in the 2002 elections to an alliance of Islamist parties, the ANP rebounded by winning the 2008 polls on the promise of restoring peace to Pakistan's restive northwest. But after governing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for five years, the general election in May left the party with only a small faction in the provincial parliament.

Former lawmaker Bushra Gohar is involved in the party’s efforts to reorganize and make a run in the next elections, slated for 2018. She says the Hoti affair is payback for the party's opposition to Islamic radicalism.

"The ANP is the only party that has openly opposed terrorist havens and the presence of foreign terrorists on our soil," she said. "So this is just another effort to weaken a party that openly opposes terrorists. Such efforts have been under way for a long time. But the ANP members understand the ongoing conspiracies."

Former ANP lawmaker Bushra Gohar thinks the media attention is part a campaign to discredit the party for its stand against terrorism.
Former ANP lawmaker Bushra Gohar thinks the media attention is part a campaign to discredit the party for its stand against terrorism.
Gohar says the ANP weathered the Taliban attacks and the arrival of alternative secular parties and emerged with its support base intact. But Gohar acknowledges that the scandal is a threat to the party's standing in the majority-Pashtun province.

Venerable Party

The ANP’s origins date back to the 1920s, when it began as a nonviolent movement opposed to the British Empire. After the creation of Pakistan, the Pashtun leaders of the movement were branded antistate because of their support for federalism, democracy, and the rights of minority ethnic groups. The National Awami Party, a precursor to the ANP, was banned twice in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the ANP opposed Islamabad's support for the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad and was among the few political parties to publicly oppose the rise of the Pakistani Taliban a decade ago.

Today it gets high marks among residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for its autonomy and adherence to secularism. But current and past disagreements among top leaders have disheartened supporters.

Senior ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak says his party's positions have always earned it powerful enemies, and he suggests that figures within Pakistan’s security establishment -- which is often accused of fostering terrorism in the region -- are trying to bring down the party.

He said that he believes those efforts will not succeed.

"This party has emerged victorious from similar trials in the past," he said. "Many dictatorships in the past failed to dismantle the ANP. God willing, this party will survive because the ANP lives in the hearts of Pashtuns and is part of their history."
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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