An informal chat with Asfandyar Wali Khan who spells
out his party’s future outlook

By Rahimullah Yusufzai
 
As a politician, Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan is a
contented man.
“We have achieved all our objectives and fulfilled promises that my party made
during the 2008 general election campaign. We have renamed North-West Frontier
Province as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to give an identity to the Pakhtuns, won maximum
provincial autonomy and closed the doors on the construction of the
controversial Kalabagh Dam project,” he said during a recent meeting with this
scribe.
Referring to his late father Khan Abdul Wali Khan, he recalled that the founder
president of the ANP had highlighted these three issues during his last major
speech at the party headquarters, Bacha Khan Markaz, in Peshawar. “For us it was
his last will and the moment brought tears to our eyes because it was Baba’s
parting wish before he died. He wished our province was renamed, he wanted
provincial rights and autonomy and he hoped the Kalabagh Dam project would be
scrapped as it was harmful to the interests of the Pakhtuns and their province,”
he recalled.

The 63-year-old Asfandyar Wali was relaxed and forthright as he spoke at the
official residence of Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, who happens to be
his nephew (his sister’s son), in Peshawar. The party’s provincial president
Senator Afrasiab Khattak and the ageing Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the federal
minister for the crisis-ridden railways, were also present.
Asfandyar Wali, born in Wali Bagh, Charsadda on February 19, 1949, studied at
the Aitchison College, Lahore, Islamia Collegiate School, Peshawar and the
University of Peshawar. He was active in students’ politics from the platform of
the Pakhtun Students Federation and was arrested for taking part in the
countrywide agitation against the military regime of President Ayub Khan. He was
jailed in 1975 along with other ANP leaders by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
government after the assassination of PPP leader Hayat Sherpao in a bomb
explosion and later sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the Hyderabad
Tribunal. He was released early in 1978 by General Ziaul Haq’s regime, but
stayed away from electoral politics until 1990 when he was elected an MPA.
He won election as an MNA from Charsadda in 1993 and 1997, but was defeated in
2002. He again won his home seat from Charsadda in 2008 while losing from Swabi.
Asfandyar Wali was first elected the ANP central President in 1999, resigning in
2002 after losing his National Assembly seat. He was re-elected the party chief
in 2003 and is still occupying the office.
The ANP leadership is confident that it would do well in the coming general
election on the basis of performance of the provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The ANP is not only the senior partner in the coalition government with the
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), but it also dominates the policy-making in the
province.
As the ANP leaders believe the forthcoming polls could take place in October
this year, they are already considering plans to reach out to the electorate
keeping in view the threats posed to them by the militants belonging to the
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Hakimullah Mahsud-led TTP has been
attacking ANP leaders and their public meetings and has repeatedly threatened to
launch more such attacks. The ANP has lost scores of party activists, including
lawmakers, in these attacks, but its leadership is defiant and has pledged to
continue to fight the militants.
Asfandyar Wali, who survived a suicide bombing at his hujra in Wali Bagh in
Charsadda district on October 3, 2008 when he was receiving party workers and
well-wishers offering him greetings on Eidul Fitr, said he was aware of the
threats and would have to devise a strategy to safely run the ANP election
campaign. “We could hold corner meetings in walled compounds. We have to find a
way to approach the voters without exposing anyone to harm,” he added.
The ANP head pointed out that his party held some big public meetings recently
after a long time not only to show its strength but also demonstrate that the
security situation in the province had improved. “I spoke at huge public
meetings in Charsadda, Swabi, Mardan and Peshawar. The one in my native
Charsadda broke records in terms of attendance. The ANP also managed to organise
public gatherings in Swat and other places in Malakand division despite
threats,” he pointed out.
When asked about his party’s chances in the next general election, Asfandyar
Wali was candid enough to concede that it may not get the same number of
assembly seats as in 2008 due to the incumbency and other factors. He argued
that the ANP had performed well while in power by undertaking unprecedented
development work and winning provincial rights and identity for the province,
but ruling parties are often affected in Pakistan by the incumbency factor. He
felt the province would have a coalition government again as parties would have
to join hands to gain majority in the provincial assembly.
Regarding the possibility of an electoral alliance between the ANP and PPP for
contesting the coming polls, Asfandyar Wali said no decision had been made yet,
but all options are open. “We could preferably contest the polls separately and
join hands after the election as we did the last time,” he opined.
On his relations with President Asif Ali Zardari due to the general belief that
the ANP has been the most steadfast supporter of the President and the PPP these
past four years, Asfandyar Wali reminded that his party never betrays allies. He
said President Zardari accommodated the ANP viewpoint and his party backed him
at crucial times. “Zardari sahib is a friend of friends. We are grateful to him
for using Pakhtunkhwa as the name for our province at home and abroad even
before the constitutional amendment for formally changing its name,” he added.
When asked about his relations with his stepmother, Begum Nasim Wali Khan,
following the rejection of her application for the party ticket recently to
contest the Senate election, he explained that she in the end accepted the
decision of the ANP parliamentary board and didn’t appeal against it. “Our
relations are okay. I also try to help Lawangeen Khan, the son of my late
brother Sangeen Wali Khan, and this is having a positive effect on our
relationship,” he said. He recalled that Begum Nasim Wali’s brother Azam Hoti
had also told her before the Senate polls that she should not become a candidate
due to her old age and poor health. “The parliamentary board gave the ticket on
the reserved seat for women to the daughter of our martyred ANP activist and my
university colleague Sher Mohammad Khan who lost his life in a bomb explosion,”
Asfandyar Wali added.
Conceding that security reasons had kept him away from his constituency in
Charsadda, the ANP President stressed that he tried to stay in touch by meeting
party workers in Peshawar and Islamabad and doing whatever was within his power
to meet their needs and those of his voters. “I have helped sanction record
development projects for Charsadda. I have also devised a system under which the
families of old Khudai Khidmatgars who offered sacrifices as freedom-fighters
for the nation and the party are assisted in finding jobs for their young
members. We need to reward our diehard workers and martyrs,” he said.
When questioned about charges of corruption against him and his party’s
government, Asfandyar Wali maintained that no evidence had been presented by
those making the accusations. “They could look at my passport and see how many
times I have travelled to Malaysia where I am accused of having bought property.
It isn’t true. Due to security reasons, I asked my son to relocate to Dubai and
do some work there,” he said.
By the way, his son Aimal Wali Khan recently travelled to Charsadda with Chief
Minister Ameer Haider Hoti due to the improved security situation. He is
beginning to dabble in politics with an eye on a future career as politician.
Aimal Wali got married to the daughter of the newly elected ANP Senator and the
party’s Sindh President Shahi Syed last week. Asfandyar Wali hosted a wedding
reception in Charsadda for around 6,000 guests and then arranged the walima in a
five-star hotel in Islamabad.
These are happy days for Asfandyar Wali and his family and that is the reason
for him to describe himself as a contented man.