By Zia Ur Rehman
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
As the third phase of the local bodies polls neared, electoral campaigns of parties participating in the elections intensified. However, for the Awami National Party (ANP) it was not just the preparation which took its toll, but security concerns also escalated.
Young activists stood guard at the entrance of the venue, situated in Ittehad Town, where the party’s rally was about to kick off, while some others frisked attendees appearing suspicious.
This had, over a period of three years, turned out to be a standard operating procedure for the ANP in the wake of innumerable attacks carried out at its gatherings, during the 2013 general elections, by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Swat faction, headed by Mullah Fazlullah.
However, what added to the heightened security concerns of party members was the area in which the gathering was being conducted – the Ittehad Town neighbourhood of district West, notorious for the presence of Taliban.
Residents of the area had breathed a sigh of relief, albeit short, following the crackdown on militants by the law enforcement agencies.
However, the November 20 attack on Rangers personnel in the area which resulted in the deaths of four soldiers had once again whipped up fear among the residents, especially the ANP workers, who bore the brunt of Taliban attacks carried out in the locality.
Contesting for the slot of union committee chairman, Mian Syed Wahid, an elderly ANP leader for whose electoral campaign the rally was organised, had himself sustained critical injuries when militants had attacked a prize-distribution ceremony underway at one of the schools in the area, in March 2013.
The school’s principal and a girl student were killed in the attack, while 20 students were injured; the attack was claimed by the same group.
Younas Buneri, the party’s provincial secretary general, said the entire party leadership was concerned over their candidates’ security, “Especially in areas which serve as strongholds of the Taliban”. According to him, the ANP had fielded more than 180 candidates across the city for slots of chairman, vice-chairman and ward councillors.
“Despite several requests by our leadership, the government was yet to provide security to our candidates,” he said.
Speaking of the Ittehad Town attack, Buneri said the law enforcement officials asked party candidates to adopt security measures since it was the same group of extremists which had attacked them previously.
“Our candidates are now adopting security measures on their own,” he maintained.
The ANP had been on a downward spiral in the city for several reasons, however, according to political analysts the attacks on the party’s leaders and political gatherings served as the final nail in the party’s coffin.
The Taliban’s unabated attacks on the party, especially in district West, had compelled the party to stop conducting overt political activities in the city.
In June 2012, the Taliban had asked ANP leaders in the city to quit the party, remove its flags and banners from atop their homes and shops, and close its offices or prepare for their wrath.
Over 100 activists of the party had fallen victim to the attacks. Three ANP district West presidents, Saeed Ahmed Khan, Ameer Sardar, Dr Ziauddin, Haji Saifullah Afridi, and general secretary Advocate Hanif were among those recently targeted.
Several members, serving as the party’s central leadership either moved back to their hometowns or to Islamabad.
The party’s provincial secretary general Bashir Jan, had according to party insiders, had left for the United States after seeking asylum due to increasing security threats, while others had joined in the ranks of right-wing political parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).
SSP West Azfar Mahesar, while speaking to The News, said 60 percent of his district had been declared ‘highly-sensitive’ for the local bodies poll.
“Around 8,000 security personnel including police, Rangers, army troops, Rapid Response Force, Quick Response Force and Anti-Riot Force will be deployed throughout the district on the election day.”