Interview with Ajmal Khattak
(At Time of his Expulsion from ANP and formation of his own
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.
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
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
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
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.