The Jiyalas And The Red Shirts

A grenade attack on the home of a PPP candidate in Peshawar is followed by a deadly suicide attack on an Awami National Party rally in the city. Events of this nature remind us that the beginning of election season in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa means different things in this day and age. And therein lies the paradox of so much that happens in Pakistan on a day-to-day basis. When the time comes to look at changing the direction we are headed in, our preference is to ignore, or not to look at, the long term.
As elections loom over the horizon in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on paper the two obvious natural allies would be the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People’s Party. At their core are two types of party workers: the PPP’s jiyalas and the ANP’s modern day red shirts. The former are known for their fanatical loyalty to the Bhutto cause, while the latter carry the remnants of the ‘surkh posh’ red shirts of the Khudai Khidmatgar of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, better known as Bacha Khan.
The contrast between these two types of workers is stark. For the jiyala, no leaders’ sacrifices are greater than the Bhuttos and no electoral battle should be fought with the PPP not leading the charge. By contrast, the red shirts represent a different breed, where the leader is an equal and should be known for his simplicity, sense of party discipline and being accountable to his followers. This reflected an ideal that the redshirts expected their leaders to live up to, or not, as the case might be.
Both the PPP and the ANP have been in power together in the federal government and in three of the provinces as well as the Senate for the last five years. They were electoral allies in the 2002 elections and have been together in various political alliances since the days of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). In fact, the recent alliance is not without precedent; back in 1972, the then NAP and PPP briefly allied and ensured the defeat of Abdul Qayyum Khan in a provincial by-election. Subsequent events would take things along vastly different paths, as a NAP rally was attacked in Liaquat Bagh in 1973 during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and the party was later outlawed by the PPP government.
In policy terms, both have projected themselves as liberal alternatives to the mainstream that oppose extremism and view the radicalisation of society as an existential threat to the entire country.
Despite such similarities, the reality has been quite different. Historically, when the parties are allied at a higher level, the grassroots would not turn out and vote for each other’s candidates. This antagonism would often boil over into physical clashes between the PPP’s jiyalas and the ANP’s modern day red shirts. In one case, around the time of the provincial speakers’ election in 1993, both sides nearly drew guns at each other. Worse was to follow in the 1997 NA-1 election, when the PPP candidate was injured and the son of the ANP’s candidate was tragically killed.
More recently, in a Mardan by-election even though the PPP candidate withdrew in favour of the ANP candidate, the turnout was dismal leading many analysts to repeat what was well known about the PPP vote: given a choice between being ordered to vote for another party and not coming out to vote, the jiyala and the average PPP voter would prefer not to come out.
This divide became even more pronounced as the PPP remained rudderless in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2008, with the party going through three presidents in four years. Then in August last year, Anwar Saifullah of the southern district of Lakki Marwat was appointed provincial president of the party. Anwar Saifullah’s own personal family history at the same time completed a remarkable full circle with his joining the PPP after being elected MPA in 2008. His family has had a long association with the Muslim League, having served closely with various military governments as well.
However, it was Anwar’s mother, Kulsoom Saifullah, who briefly served as a NAP MPA before joining the PPP in the 1970s. She was imprisoned briefly under Zia before joining the Muslim League and becoming minister of state.
The PPP Anwar Saifullah took over was in a poor state. Its local jiyalas have historically never worked well with the ANP activists and felt ignored by their own ministers. The perception was rife within the provincial party that the PPP had given too much to the ANP and they were paying the price by association. Given the challenges, Anwar and his PPP advisors took a deliberate decision to distance themselves from the ANP and with the lure of patronage and aggressive campaigning they reorganised the party in time for the elections.
The ANP, by contrast, emerged from the 2008 election with a historic win followed by the success of the three major cornerstones of its policy since the party was formed in 1986. They had finally renamed the province, blocked the construction of the Kalabagh Dam and gained a measure of provincial autonomy.
Despite these successes, the party was to face a different form of attack, as it came increasingly under direct attack by the Taliban. The party suffered enormously, losing an estimated 700 activists as the whole province was engulfed in violence. The party activists felt a sense of frustration with the PPP since they saw the party avoid taking a clear stance on the issue as the ANP workers were targeted.
Tragically for the province as a whole, it was to suffer a large degree of indifference to these attacks from the rest of the country. This was worsened by the perception of poor governance by the ANP-PPP provincial government which was unwilling or unable to radically reform the law enforcement and educational systems to deal with the threats faced or prepare the province’s new generation for the future. The only issue the two parties seem to agree upon is that they will not contest this election together in any form of seat adjustment or alliance.
Both parties are now contesting the elections bereft of allies, facing constant threats of attack, campaigning with the bitter taste of incumbency and facing an electorate fed up with years of constant instability. The jiyala and red shirts allied together may have limited the damage and defeat they now face but alone they face a brutal and lonely election campaign.