ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Confused Pashtun

What are the reasons behind Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf forming the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Was it because the voters there identified with his party's accommodation of the Taliban and taking up many of their demands as his rivals like to argue? If that were indeed the case, it is difficult to explain why voters did not choose to support the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam or its breakaway faction which has a much longer history of association with the Taliban.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is taking over the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) bordering Afghanistan. At this point it is necessary to dispel a couple of myths that have accompanied the victory. Such an exercise must necessarily begin with an explanation of the reasons for the defeat of the former provincial ruling party, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP).

The modern-day ANP emerged out of a political tendency that was always, until very recently, at odds with the Pakistani establishment. The proximity of the ANP to the Indian National Congress – the ANP’s ideological patriarch Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan opposed the creation of Pakistan – and its hostility to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) meant that it was always held in suspicion by the political and military establishment. Isolated, and no longer able to look towards its old allies now ruling India, the ANP turned westwards and found eager patrons in Kabul. Before the days of “strategic depth”, Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan was shaped by Kabul’s territorial claims on KPK. As from the 1950s, the ANP’s predecessor parties became close to Afghan President Daud Khan’s “Greater Pashtunistan” policy to unite Afghanistan and the Pashtun-dominated KPK province of Pakistan. To that effect, Daud Khan insisted that the KPK be given a choice to either become independent – in effect a protectorate of Kabul – or choose to join either Pakistan or Afghanistan. The ANP in the KPK was thus cultivated as an asset and possible political bridgehead to attract support amongst Pakistani Pashtuns.

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