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Interview with Ajmal Khattak

(At Time of his Expulsion from ANP and formation of his own party)

Former President of ANP Ajmal Khattak is a man of many parts. Born at Akora Khattak in Nowshera District on September 15, 1926, Khattak secured his MA degree from the University of Peshawar. His career as a political activist began at school when he was a seventh grader. However, his formal political life started when he joined the Red Shirt Movement of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, affectionately known as Bacha Khan. The Red Shirt Movement later became the National Awami Party. Khattak rose from his position as secretary of the Local NAP unit to become the General Secretary of NAP.

Khattak has also had a very active and versatile literary career and has been Editor-in-Chief of a number of newspapers and periodicals. He is also the author of more than a dozen books in Pushto, Urdu and English. During General Ziaul Haq's regime and Pakistan's covert war against the Soviet-Afghan regime in Afghanistan, Khattak remained in exile (1973-1989). He became a member of the National Assembly from 1990 to 1993 and was elected as senator in March 1994.

However, Khattak’s ideas and ideals seem to have undergone a transformation. Today he castigates secularism and denies Bacha Khan was a secularist. The first indication of this change came when he supported honor killings during a Senate discussion on the murder of a girl in 1999. His statemehnt shocked the liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan. Since his expulsion from the Awami National Party in May this year he has been hobnobbing with the religious parties, especially the Jama'at-i Islami that he castigated during the Afghan war when he was in exile in socialist Afghanistan. He has also set up his party and supports the religious parties' demand for enforcement of shariah in this country. The Friday Time's Umer Abdul Aziz spoke with Ajmal Khattak at his residence in Akora Khattak on various issues, especially his differences with the ANP leadership and his proposal to set up a National Reconciliation Commission.

Excerpts:

Friday Times: Is it true that Begum Nasim Wali Khan played a key role in your ouster from the ANP?
Ajmal Khattak: Yes, there should be no doubt about that.

Friday Times: Does ANP embody the democratic spirit of NAP?
Ajmal Khattak: Some 28 years ago, when the NAP was banned, the party was renamed NDP (National Democratic Party). Later, it was re-christened Awami National Party. The NAP workers and leaders who were attached to Bacha Khan and his red Shirt Movement and had paid a heavy price for their commitment to those ideals gradually realized that ANP had lost its democratic character and was being subjected to the dictatorship of one family over the party. The Party has become hostage to one person. Now they have even expelled the only remaining committed worker like me.

Friday Times: Azam Hoti is alleged to have conducted himself poorly as a federal minister. He is now under arrest. When you were the president of ANP, why did you not take action against him?
Ajmal Khattak: When I was the central president of ANP, and even before that, the decision making was the responsibility of the leadership of the party. As I have said the party and its leadership was slowly taken over by the family. The priorities were changed and decisions were taken to promote the interests of the family. I might have been central president, but I was a mere rubber-stamp. I had no powers to take action against Azam Hoti.

Friday Times: Would your party contest elections against the ANP?
Ajmal Khattak: I cannot decide that. In the National Awami Party Pakistan (NAPP) the elected representatives of the party workers will take all the decisions. They will decide NAPP's future course of action.

Friday Times: Lately you have been reaching out to the religious leaders. Is it an indication that you are moving away from the secular ideals of Bacha Khan?
Ajmal Khattak: It is a misconception that Bacha Khan was a secular-minded leader. He was a very religious person and was inspired by the ulema of Deoband. His Red Shirt Movement was not secular. Secularism is a European term and in my opinion it has no relevance to our circumstances. But we are a non-sectarian party.

Friday Times: How do you perceive the struggle by these leaders for the supremacy of Islamic laws?
Ajmal Khattak: The ulema and religious scholars were in the forefront of the freedom struggle. The present religious leadership belongs to the same tradition. The religious parties have a distinct environment and traditions. Their leaders are well aware of their responsibilities in this modern era. They are against terrorism, sectarianism and bloodshed but at the same time they are not ready to give up their struggle for the supremacy of Quran and Sunnah. These ulema played a crucial role in the Afghan jihad. Last month I visited Mansura [JI headquarters in Lahore], where I was Qazi Hussain Ahmad's guest. He is a sincere and committed leader and I am deeply inspired by him. Other leaders too - Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, Allama Sajid Naqvi - agree with my proposal to set up a National Reconciliatory Council (NRC). Their struggle for the enforcement of Shariah is very legitimate. I am in fact trying to provide a joint platform in the shape of the NRC to the religious leaders, political leaders and the military.

Friday Times: Do you think the people ideologically attached with the Red Shirt Movement would join your party?
Ajmal Khattak: Except Wali Khan, I am the only symbol of Bacha Khan's philosophy and struggle to serve the people without any discrimination. I was expelled from the party by people who have no attachment with Bacha Khan's ideals. Wali Khan is ill and has no voice. But the ideology of Bacha Khan remains alive. People who were disheartened because of the present leadership of ANP want me to organize them. I am too old to launch a new political party, but I do not want to give a free hand to politicians who have plundered the national exchequer.

Friday Times: What is your opinion about the Kalabagh Dam project. The ANP leaders are castigating you on this issue?
Ajmal Khattak: Three federating units have objections to this project. But the question is: Can controversial issues be settled through a confrontational attitude or does a solution require reconciliation and consensus? That is where my proposal for an NRC comes in. We need to resolve the issue in light of our national interests.

Friday Times: Is it true that Bacha Khan did not want Begum Nasim Wali to get involved in party affairs and thought that she would destroy the party?
Ajmal Khattak: Begum Nasim Wali Khan came into the political arena at a time when all the NAP leaders were behind bars and I was in exile. The workers were also against her involvement in the affairs of the party. A party leader, Faiz Mohammad Khan of Shewa, came to Kabul to discuss the matter with me. I wrote two letters, one to the common workers of the party and another to Begum Wali Khan. I urged the workers to accept her for the time being. When Wali Khan and other leaders were released from the jail and the situation came to normal Faiz Mohammad Khan, the workers and I were of the opinion that now she should leave the party affairs to the male members. But by then she had become too involved in politics and refused to leave politics. Now Bacha Khan's prediction has come true.

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