“While standing here in mini-Larkana, I say that the judges have said, ‘Go Nawaz Go’. The Fake Khan is fooling people, so I am also telling him, ‘Go Imran Go’,” declared former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari while addressing a rally in Malakand Agency’s Badraga on April 25.
The PPP is gearing up in the area as part of preparations for the general elections in 2018. The aim is to reorganize and revive the party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it did not do as well as it would have liked in the 2013 general elections—a setback to its otherwise good record in the area.
Today Malakand has two provincial assembly seats, PK-98 and PK-99, and one National Assembly seat, NA-35 (it used to have NA-26). The people from this area have elected PPP candidates more than those from any other political party. In ten general elections, for example, Malakand has been represented by the PPP in the National Assembly four times. PK-98 and PK-99 have traditionally gone to the PPP more than any other party.
Up until 1970, Malakand was part of a princely state and when they were abolished in that year, it became a provincially administered tribal area. It was known as Malakand Protected Area, which was part of the larger Malakand Agency that included Chitral and Dir.
The people from this area have elected PPP candidates more than those from any other political party. It became popular for backing the poor against the Khans or landlords and the riwaj system that oppressed new migrants
During the general elections of 1970, the son of Haji Shahjahan Khan of Julagram Muhammad Hanif Khan was elected from Malakand to the provincial assembly. He was one of three PPP parliamentarians in the province and he was also elected Speaker of the assembly. During the elections of 1988, Hanif Khan won NA-26 which was Malakand-cum-Dir and became federal minister for Communication and Kashmir Affairs.
In 1990, the PPP won NA-26 again with Ahmad Hassan Khan. During the 1993 general elections the PPP fielded Hanif Khan once again. He was up against Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and a strong candidate. But during the campaign, Hanif Khan died of a cardiac arrest. Nevertheless, the PPP’s Malak Muzaffar Khan defeated the JI’s Maulana Gohar Rahman for the seat during the by-polls, even though Rahman had support from the Awami National Party and Pakistan Muslim League.
In 2002, Lower Dir was separated from Malakand and NA-35 became the only representative seat of Malakand in the National Assembly. During the 2002 general elections, when the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal won an overwhelming majority in the entire division, NA-35 went to it but the PPP’s Syed Muhammad Ali Shah Bacha still won PK-98 Malakand. In 2008, Laal Muhammad Khan won NA-35 Malakand while PK-99 and PK-98 went to the PPP’s Humayun Khan and Syed Muhammad Ali Shah Bacha, respectively. In 2013, despite the PTI’s popularity in the region, Syed Muhammad Ali Shah Bacha once again won PK-98. It was his third consecutive victory.
In addition to the NA and PA, the PPP has done well in the local body elections here as well. At the moment, out of the PPP’s two district nazims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Syed Ahmad Ali Shah Bacha belongs to Malakand. In the past, the party’s Humayun Khan has served as district nazim.
With such a stellar electoral track record, it is easy to understand why Malakand has been dubbed a mini-Larkana for the PPP. Larkana is the home district of the party’s found Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, both of whom have been prime ministers.
But how did the people of Malakand come to like the PPP and indeed, stay loyal for so many years?
One perspective is provided by the man who Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari appointed to lead the party in KP, Muhammad Humayun Khan. He is the son of Hanif Khan. “My father was one of the founding leaders of the PPP in KP,” Humayun says. “There was a big gap between the Khans (landlords) and the poor in Malakand. Raising your voice for the poor was considered a crime in the area. My father, who was a khan himself, revolted against his own community and raised his voice for the poor.” This was why, he says, a majority of people voted for him in the 1970 elections.
Eighty-five-year old Rustam Ali is one of those jiyalas who saw the party’s early days in the 1970s. He says he has been associated with the PPP for 47 years. “Seven friends and I announced that we were joining the PPP during the party’s gathering in Thana in 1970,” he recalls. Hayat Sherpao was the chief guest. “We went to the rally from our village Brangola across the River Swat in Lower Dir. We also pledged to persuade at least 650 people to vote for the PPP in the upcoming elections in our area.”
One day, fed up with the riwaj system, a businessman from Batkhela called Muhammad Khan decided to start a movement for the rights of tenants in Malakand Agency in 1967-68. He called it the Awamikhel Tanzeem. It laid the ground for the PPP to arrive in the 1970s
Rustam Ali agrees that the PPP was an attractive option because it was talking about the rights of the poor. But before the PPP came on the scene, the groundwork for this kind of resistance had been laid by two different entities. Indeed, the PPP owes much of its initial success to them, according to some people.
Malakand Agency used to be governed by the riwaj system under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The business community that had migrated from Swat, Dir and tehsil Adenzai to Batkhela town and other adjoining areas were victimised by it. “It was a time when poor people could not dare take part in politics,” explains Rustam Ali. “All the decisions or disputes in the locality would be decided either by the Khanaan (landlord) or religious leaders.” Even though they brought good business with them and were economically sound, the newcomers were looked down upon by the local landlords.
One particularly limiting rule was the Shufa that said that the newcomers were not allowed to buy land and build their own shops or houses, so they were compelled to always live as tenants in the area. “Even if you had money you could not buy land, have a house of your own,” adds Rustam Ali, who used to trade in wheat and rice. “I was a victim of the system; I could not buy my own house and was compelled to live as tenant.” Tenants were also persecuted through jirgas established under the FCR.
This discrimination overlapped with a persistent elitism. Another unjust practice under riwaj came in the form chanai according to which tenants had to make offerings of special gifts like sweets and special foods to their landlords during religious festivals or upon holding the engagements and weddings of their children. They also had to take firewood to a landlord’s hujra or guest house and to mosques.
But then, one day, fed up with the riwaj system, a businessman from Batkhela called Muhammad Khan decided to start a movement for the rights of tenants in Malakand Agency in 1967-68. He called it the Awamikhel Tanzeem (AT), a non-violent and unarmed social movement against local landlords, who enjoyed the support of the government under the FCR. According to journalist Juma Rahman Afgar, it was the AT that paved the way for the PPP in the area. After some initial reluctance, the businessmen community and people who had migrated started following Muhammad Khan. Juma Rahman Afgar’s father Haji Muhammad Zaman, Fazal Rahman, Haji Gul Azeem, Dr Pir Gul, Khan Zarin and Shamshad Khan are the names of some of its leading members.
(It is important to also mention the contribution of the Mazdoor Kissan Party which was set up by Afzal Bangash in 1968. It had also attracted the peasantry and workers in Malakand Agency. Its members were called Kisanaan and its leaders were Haji Shamandroz and Awam Khan. And while the MKP and AT were working on the same political issues at the same time in Malakand the latter always kept away from what it said was the MKP’s tendency to seek out violence. Rustam Ali was familiar with their work. “We were all ghareeban (poor) and there was not a single Khan amongst us. We were also encouraged by members of the Mazdoor Kissan Party who were living in our surroundings (Lower Dir’s Adenzai).” MKP stayed away from the 1970 general elections and some of its members joined the PPP in the early 1970s.)
When Juma Rahman Afgar was 17 he became the leader of AT’s student wing. “We started mobilizing the youth and encouraged them on how to interact with the sons of landlords,” he says. “Slowly and gradually AT became popular and attracted large numbers of people in both Batkhela and Dargai tehsils.”
A year later, by 1968-69, differences emerged in the AT top tier and Haji Muhammad Zaman formed his own group and called it the Awami Islami Tanzeem (AIT). However, both groups were still on the same page when it came to fighting for the rights of migrated people. In fact, some local landlords even joined AIT because they were against the riwaj system themselves.
As Muhammad Khan’s AT grew popular, word reached the PPP and its vice-president at the time, Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao, sent one of the party’s Peshawar leaders, Zafar Qureshi, to meet Muhammad Khan and propose a merger. Zafar Qureshi tried to sweeten the deal by saying that they could solve local problems from the platform of the PPP. Muhammad Khan was sceptical. “PPP talks about socialism while as Muslims we can’t merge with it,” Muhammad Khan is reported to have said. Nevertheless, he told Qureshi that he would consult party members.
The AIT was, however, sold on the idea and urged Muhammad Khan to go ahead but he wasn’t convinced. Zafar Qureshi visited Batkhela again but this time he met the more predisposed AIT that signed on. Hayat Sherpao sent the PPP’s Mian Iftikhar Uddin from Mardan, who hoisted their first flag of the AIT party office in Batkhela. Haji Muhammad Zaman was elected president of the PPP’s Malakand chapter and he kept the post for almost 30 years. Abdul Kabir Khan became PPP general secretary. Zafar Khan and Dost Muhammad Khan from Dargai, Fazal Karim from Shakot, Bakht Zamin Khan from Khar, Rabnawaz Khan from Matkani and Haji Hakim Khan from Totakan all announced they were joining the PPP. Hanif Khan stayed away.
But then, according to Juma Rahman Afgar, just ahead of the 1970 elections, Hanif Khan, announced he was joining the PPP. In those days, the district president had final say on which candidate would be awarded the party ticket. Malakand had one provincial assembly seat and it shared National Assembly seat (NA-26) with Lower Swat. Zafar Khan from Dargai and Abdul Kabir Khan from Swat Ranezai had applied for the party ticket for the provincial assembly but it went to Hanif Khan.
Muhammad Khan who was still leading the AT, which by then had shrunk, contested the elections as an independent candidate against Hanif Khan of the PPP. It was a one-sided contest, and Hanif Khan won.
In 1973, though, the PPP fulfilled its promised and during a political rally at Batkhela Zulfikar Ali Bhutto announced the abolition of the FCR; the AT and AIT’s original goal of ridding their home of the riwaj system was met. But the credit went to the PPP that grew from strength to strength in Malakand Agency.
The PPP may have a history of a strong following in Malakand but there has been a lot of water under the bridge. New jiyalas are disgruntled. They complain that the party rose to fame on the backs of the poor but today all its leaders are from strong rich families. “Rich people were always awarded tickets while the poor were sidelined and ignored,” says Wahid Iqbal, who was once a die-hard activist. “This is why jiyalas like Rahmanullah, Muhammad Said Pathan, Jahanzeb the fruit seller and Qasim Qasab are in the background today.” Unhappy folk have been edging to the breakaway PPP-Sherpao group, now known as the Qaumi Watan Party.
The party workers seem to understand work has to be done. “Malakand has always remained a stronghold of the PPP and during the upcoming elections once again we will prove that Malakand is mini-Larkana,” Humayun Khan declares. “The recent political rally by Asif Ali Zardari, even though it was arranged in a small village, was the largest rally after the rallies of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto in the region.” Humayun Khan may certainly know how to plug his party but he is popular. In fact, when Bilawal appointed him president of the PPP in KP in November 2016, the decision was welcomed. And perhaps that was the first step in the right direction.