Muhammad Azam Khan Hoti: a hard-core nationalist
BY Tahir Ali
(The News, December,2008)
Muhammad Azam Khan Hoti was born on 27 April, 1946 in a respectable and renowned political family of Mardan. He received his early education in Risalpur and later studied at the Aitchison College Lahore. He graduated from the Degree College Nowshera. After his graduation, Azam Hoti decided to join the Pakistan Army and was commissioned in1967 therein. He became a Captain in the Armoured Corps of the Pakistan Army and also took part in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Thereafter, he sought retirement from Army on account of his domestic needs.
Azam’s passion to ameliorate the quality of life of the people of his area led him to join the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1972. He served the NAP and later the Awami National Party (ANP) actively after NAP was banned. He also remained in exile for several years. He has been a member of the ANP’s central and provincial executive committees and also led Nangialai Pakhtoon (ANP’s youth wing). Azam assumed more significance after his son, Amir Haider Hoti, became the Chief Minister of NWFP this year.
Azam was twice elected as an MNA from Mardan in 1990 and 1997 on ANP ticket and was twice made the Federal Minister for Communications in the Nawaz Sharif cabinets in 1991 and 1997. In March 1994, he was elected as a member of the Senate of Pakistan. He remained a member of different Senate Standing Committees.
He has close family ties with famous Pakhtoon nationalist leader Abdul Ghafar Khan Alias Bacha Khan. His sister Begum Naseem Wali was married to Late Abdul Wali Khan. So, ANP’s chief Asfandyar Wali Khan is his nephew from this aspect.
He has a loving nature and is widely known as a patient listener and astute speaker. The News on Sunday interviewed him recently. Excerpts follow.
The News on Sunday: You in ANP have always been campaigning for provincial autonomy. You have played a role for this purpose. Can you explain for our readers as to what do you mean by the term provincial autonomy?
Azam Khan Hoti: There is a very simple answer to this question. Provincial autonomy is not merely a matter of administrative powers. It, in our view, means our control over our own resources. We say that all our provincial resources- whether water, minerals, gas, forests, and the electricity produced here or anything else- should be left and handed over to the province. We think of provincial autonomy as financial autonomy. It is what we mean by the term provincial autonomy.
TNS: Our constitution has three power-lists-federal, provincial and concurrent ones. Are you satisfied with the constitutional mechanism in this regard?
AKH: The federal list specifies the domain of the federal organs while the provincial one narrates the areas where provinces work on their own. The concurrent list enumerates the combined domains of the two. At the time of constitution-making, a verbal promise was made that the concurrent list would be abolished within ten years for the empowerment of provinces but that too was not fulfilled as Zia imposed martial law and the constitution was suspended. But even the abolition of the concurrent list won’t suffice because that too falls short of what we think is necessary to give financial autonomy to the provinces; it touches minor issues such as the taking or withdrawing of certain departments from or to the provinces. We want complete control over our provincial resources.
TNS: Some people stress that all provinces should have equal representation in the lower chamber of parliament, the National Assembly. What are your views on that?
AKH: The Senate of Pakistan is there with equal representation for the provinces. But the problem is that it doesn’t have financial powers. Most of the powers are at present vested in the National Assembly where Punjab enjoys an absolute 64% majority and the three smaller provinces cannot compete with that majority even if they get together. So, either the Senate should be given financial powers or ‘they’ decide that each province would be handed over the control of all of its resources. If this is done, the problem will be solved.
TNS: Do you subscribe to the view that at present there is Punjab’s hegemony on our national scene? Also what do you think of apprehensions by certain quarters that we are heading fast towards East-Pakistan-like situation?
AKH: Indeed there is one. When all constitutional and legal paths are blocked, things then invariably go that way. This is why it is better to solve the problem through legal and constitutional means. Failure to do so results in disappointment. We should see as to why there is so much disillusionment in Baluchistan and why did the Baluchs take up arms? They were compelled to take up guns because their problems were not solved through legal and constitutional means and instead their leaders were started being killed. Law and constitution are the primary paths to resolve differences. But for these, you always need sensitivity and realisation within the federation. Unless there is a realisation that for the integrity and solidarity of federation of Pakistan each federating unit including Punjab has to be given its rights, the problem will be there. It’s not a matter of majority or largeness of area, it is only of sensitivity. If Punjab and Sind can have full authority on their wheat, cotton, and rice-crops and gas, why can’t Pukhtoonkhwa have on its forests, mineral and water resources? While hydro-power generation stations are located here, our province has been denied its due share. Many parts of Baluchistan still wait for gas facility which is supplied from there to most parts of the country. It is this lack of equity and justice that spoils things. I think the time has come where we have to decide that if we desire to save the federation, then the smaller federating units will have to be satisfied. Or else it would be very difficult to safeguard the federation of Pakistan, especially in the prevailing situation. The sooner this is done, the better for the country. Any delay in this connection will result in more and more problems for the federation.
TNS: How should the financial resources be distributed amongst the federating units, whether on the basis of population or income…?
AKH: (Interrupting) I have already said that each province has the right to own and control the resources found there. Baluchistan should be given the possession of gas. Sind and Punjab should also be given control of their provincial resources. But we also expect that we will be handed over the ownership of our various resources.
TNS: Let us now turn to the problem of militancy in tribal built of the country. What do you think helped produce the crisis: is it a result of the internal power-politics or are the alleged local extremist tendencies to blame or whether foreign hand is involved as you recently blamed the trouble on some foreign states?
AKH: Did religion come in 1980 which caused extremism? Why was there no extremism before that? Were there any Kalashnikov, RPG or rocket launchers ever seen in Pakistan before that? The truth is this all is the handiwork of our hands. All this is the result of our policies. We brought this ‘Fasad’ to Pakistan ourselves. In 80s, we jumped into a war that Russia and USA fought for their interests but we declared we were waging a Jihad. On the behest of the US, Zia took up the cause. US dollars and Jihadi forces were there to assist him. He facilitated, armed and enticed the ‘mujahideen’- imported from Algeria to Philippines- to fight for America in the name of Islam. And when ‘their’ priorities changed that Jihad became a Fasad overnight. We have kick-started the trouble ourselves. Weren’t Pakistan, religion, and mosque there before that? Wouldn’t people offer prayers and keep fasts before that? Did anyone take up gun? But then we gave them guns and pushed them to fight the Russians for American interests. And now when American priorities have changed and Russia is no more in the middle, we are pitted against those very people who were once created by the US.
TNS: Are there any foreign hands involved in the current uprising?
AKH: From the very outset, it was a foreign war. It was a war for the interests of the USA. Now there are many hands involved. God knows as to who and who is coming. All who try to destabilise or wish that, have jumped in-some may have nuclear problem, others may have border issue while others may have any other conflict with Pakistan. I think all of them are involved. It’s a free-style wrestling. No one knows in precision as to who’s fighting and for whom. Even many of those who fight in tribal areas have little knowledge as to why, for whom and with whose money and weaponry they are fighting. You know the rockets that hit my house in October were Russia-manufactured but Russia had stopped their production in 1967. The question is where did they come from into the hands of the miscreants? They may have arrived here either from Afghanistan or from where they were supplied by the Russians. After all we ourselves are to blame. Had we not taken part in that war for US interests, there wouldn’t have been any Fasad now.
TNS: But I am afraid only lamenting our past policies in this regard would be of no use. Some steps would have to be taken to solve the problem. What political steps do you suggest?
AKH: : Look! What is the present situation? Alqaeda, Usama and extremists from Algeria to Philippines were imported by the US. They were neither created by Pakistan nor Afghanistan. It was at best a problem between Pakistan and Afghanistan or an internal issue of the latter. What the Chechens, Arabs, Libyans and Egyptians had to do in it? They were brought here to use them. Now when the priorities have changed, they have been declared enemies. And then the real Taliban are there with Mullah Umar in Afghanistan. Where these Pakistani Taliban have come from? They were created by us then.
TNS: Who’s supporting the extremists at present from abroad? You had accused Mosad, India–?
AKH: (Interrupting) I think all those who want to destabilise Pakistan are involved.
TNS: What is the solution to this predicament?
AKH: The solution is that the insurgents realise that they are destroying their own country and shedding the blood of their own brothers. They should surrender arms and enter into a dialogue with the government. If they think that they would be able to solve problems through arms, they should know that never throughout history have problems been solved through arms. And it’s not that their bodies are made up of iron while only those of others are of flesh. They are just like other humans. And what has happened of late? Haven’t lashkars been formed against them in Bajaur, Mamoond, Buner, Dir and Kurram agency? The insurgents should know that while they are in thousands, the people come to crores. Never in history has any political movement succeeded without popular support, leave alone any militant one. So we ask them: come on! enter the political and electoral process. If you want the law of Shariah, go and seek popular votes on the issue like we do- When MMA was voted to power, wasn’t its mandate accepted by all? You know it was allowed to rule for full five years while we remained in the opposition during that period. If people support your manifesto, that there should be Talibanisation in the country, you are welcome to run the affairs of the country according to your mandate. The mandate should be respected. But you cannot be allowed to impose your will through the power of gun as it only entails lawlessness, killings, chaos and anarchy.
TNS: Which has always been done by the Army in Pakistan?
AKH: Army has done but it has not said that I’ll bring a system forcefully and will kill you. There have been dictators here like Musharraf who overran an elected government. There has been this kind of adventurism which we have opposed.
Again, one cannot deny the fact that all these kinds of Fitnas have always emerged during military rules in the country. Ayub aggravated the situation. When Yahya Khan came half of Pakistan went away. When Zia came, he started the ‘Jihad’and destabilised Afghanistan and Pakhtoons. When General Musharraf came, he made it into a ‘fasad’. Never has Pakistan undergone damages like this in any civilian, democratic, political and elected governments throughout its history. Dictatorships have had always harmed the country which unfortunately all the time got backing from certain unprincipled politicians who do so for their personal interests. Gen Ayub was supported by Convention Muslim league, Zia by official Muslim league while Musharraf was backed by Muslim league Q.
The situation in tribal areas now is very alarming. It is not a problem of militancy; rather it’s pure insurgency. It’s an attack on the territorial integrity and solidarity of Pakistan. It’s an attack on the writ of the government. It’s a very serious problem.
TNS: What constitutional steps need to be taken to deal with the FATA problem?
AKH: You see FATA was there even in British period before the establishment of Pakistan. No cases of theft were ever reported then. No enmity-related murder remained untraced. There was no law and order problem in the area. No single fire was shot against its people from Pakistan’s soil. There was a status-quo and a system in the tribal built that worked. When that system was disturbed and the people were given guns in their hand and allowed to go wherever they wanted and shoot whoever they wished, this was bound to happen.
Don’t ‘they’ know where these militants are? Maulana Fazlullah has not come to the fore today. He has been there since long. You media men go and interview him which means he’s there but ‘they’ are still unable to trace him. This is all a predicament of our own making.
TNS: Don’t you think that tribal areas should be merged into the province?
AKH: Why not. It should of course be made a part of the province. There are tribal builts both in Punjab and Baluchistan but they are merged into the settled areas and are under the writ of the respective provincial governments.
We must remember that the British had introduced this mechanism for their ease. They divided pukhtoons by drawing the Durand-line and created differences between Pukhtoons on the two sides as well. Not only that, it created Afghanistan, Yaghistan, provincial and federal tribal areas. The British did so to disperse Pukhtoons and to impede their mutual links because they were afraid of their power and resilience. Never forget that the pukhtoons had ruled the subcontinent and the area from Bay of Bengal to the Amu River, including Kashmir, for over twelve hundred years. It was but natural for the British to try to weaken and control the Pakhtoons who could be a threat to them. It’s a known history. But what’s wrong with us.
Coming back to your question, political parties must be allowed to function in tribal areas. Whenever political parties and figures are given free access in these areas, things will automatically improve. At present, mainstream secular political parties are banned in FATA while Mullahs and religious parties are allowed to continue with their work there freely.
And look at the irony of the situation that while the FATA MNAs are elected to sit in the parliament that has come into being under the constitution of Pakistan, they are beyond the realm of that constitution. They take part in constitution making and legislations but are themselves exempted from those laws and are governed by the FCR. Isn’t it a contradiction in itself? What I mean is that the constitution should be extended to FATA; the areas should be made a part of the province; political parties should be allowed to establish their networks there; the tribal built should be given due attention and shares in developmental projects like settled areas; education, employment, health facilities and communication infrastructures should be given top priorities. It is only through more awareness, dialogue and development that you can hope we could successfully cope with this problem. Gun, violence and terrorism will only aggravate the situation.
TNS: Do you accept the view that there is a difference of opinion between the provincial and federal governments on how to tackle the insurgency. The ANP-led provincial government inked a pact with the TTP. But it was disowned by the advisor on interior Rehman Malik?
AKH: No. He later backtracked on his statement and the situation got cleared. We had signed a treaty with them and released Maulana Sufi Mohammad from prison. Mind you, he was in jail for more than seven years, during the five-year term of MMA government as well who didn’t free him despite the fact that he belonged to their ranks. Though he is still campaigning for what he wanted before his incarceration- the enforcement of Islamic laws- he’s doing it peacefully and hasn’t taken up arms for the purpose. The treaty was signed but it was violated. The writ of the government was challenged and the government was compelled to start the operation. It is untenable that on one hand treaty is signed and on the other militancy and insurgency is carried on while on its part the administration strictly follows the pact. The pact was broken by them, not by us.
TNS: ANP has all along been talking of non-violence. It had opposed the operation and war as an alien war. But now it says it is our war. Isn’t it a contradiction?
AKH: We still stand by our stand. We didn’t start the war. We didn’t initiate hostilities. Infact the war has been imposed on us. If we had initiated the hostilities we would have been guilty of violence. Non-violence doesn’t mean that you let someone kill you. when we are attacked, we have the right to defend ourselves.
TNS: This is precisely what Musharraf would say to validate his policy. Then what is the difference between you and him?
AKH: Musharraf said so after 2001. He didn’t talk like that before that. Before that ministers from both the countries would visit each other. When America changed its policy, Musharraf also followed suit. But we have been saying that from day one. The war has been imposed on us. We are being specifically targeted though the ANP has joined a provincial coalition government of which PPP is also a part. They want to fight with ANP. We still urge them to lay down arms, join the political setup, work in the masses and seek their support. If the electorate backs your agenda, you’re welcome to enforce your manifesto. No Muslim can oppose the law of Shariah but it has to be brought through the public mandate. Mullah sahib took a mandate on the issue but didn’t bring it.
The recent insurgency is not a problem confined to the provincial government. The territorial integrity and solidarity of Pakistan is at stake. The national fabric will suffer if the situation worsens any more. But then it was bound to happen. The war was bound to enter the tribal built from Afghanistan to ultimately spread to settled areas. The wrong policies of the past 28 years were bound to result in a situation like this.
TNS: Your critics say you are following a proactive policy rather than a defensive one. In this connection, they point to a decision regarding the resuscitation of ANP’s youth wing ‘Nangiali Pakhtoon’ in a meeting headed by Asfandyar a few months back. Your comments please.
AKH: It‘s wrong to say that. Infact we had decided to organise our party in that meeting. We are still trying to do it but it is meant only for our defence. We have never said we are at war with ‘them’. Have you ever noticed any lashkar from the ANP going to the tribal built to fight the insurgents? We would have been guilty only if we had utilised our party against them. It is quite the opposite. They come and attack us. We are only for our defence and peace.
TNS: ANP had promised of giving pen and book to Pakhtoon children but your critics say you have given guns in their hands by enticing them to tribal lashkars? How do you reconcile the two?
AKH: We still hold on to our stand. We want to see pens and books in the hands of our youth and would do whatever possible to do that. But this can only be possible if the militants lay down their arms.
TNS: Do you see any possibility that the insurgency will grow fainter in the near future?
AKH: Let us not be pessimistic. We should carry on with our struggles for resolving the issue. If there is sincerity and truthfulness, our endeavours shall succeed at last. Of course, you cannot do without peace and dialogue. So, peaceful endeavours should never be given up. The use of force is and should be the last option. It is being used because the other side dislikes peace. If they surrender their guns and want to hold talks, they would be welcomed.
TNS: The use of force, you said, is the last option but critics say it has become the first choice for the government?
AKH: The government started the operation under compulsion because the other side violated the agreement. We all know Maulana Falullah initially agreed to the pact but when Baitullah rejected it he also withdrew his support. You know there was peace for three months following the treaty. As per the agreement, prisoners, including Maulan Sufi Mohammad, were freed; Fazlullah’s complex at Mamdheri was declared an Islamic university; compensation had begun.
TNS: It has been observed that the two sides are suspicious of each other’s intentions. How can this lack of confidence be removed?
AKH: Mutual confidence can be easily created if vested interests get out of the way. The activist at the tale-end surely doesn’t know as to from where he is being funded and supplied. He sees and knows only the next hand but is ignorant of the many other elements involved in the supply chain. His commitment to, and sincerity with, the cause of Islam is being exploited by the vested interests.
TNS: What other steps do you propose to tackle the insurgency?
AKH: There should be two aspects of our strategy-long term and short term. The long term strategy includes adopting what we have been saying all these years: wind up the hurdles between Pakhtoons and allow the moderate political parties access into tribal areas just as Mullahs enjoy there. In the ongoing situation, we should however, give priority to the short term strategy, which is, that dialogue, development and other legal steps should be embraced. We should also resolve that if militants lay down their guns but are still attacked, we should side by them in that eventuality. First they should surrender their guns, then law, constitution, dialogue, development will be resorted to solve the problem slowly and gradually.
TNS: Where do you stand on the issue of renaming the NWFP?
AKH: In principle, the PPP agrees with the ANP that the name of the province be changed. But it requires a constitutional amendment to alter the name since it is written in the constitution of Pakistan. And for a constitutional amendment you need a 2/3rd majority in parliament. When we reach that stage, we will see to it that it is ensured. As far us, we already have been calling it Pakhtoonkhwa. And now we are grateful that even President Asif Ali Zardari has called it Pakhtoonkhwa. Mahmood Khan Achakzai and many others also share our view.
TNS: Critics say that renaming of the province is a non-issue and won’t solve the people’s problems related to water, power, health and education. How do you respond?
AKH: Have these problems been tackled when the name is NWFP? It’s a separate issue altogether. It’s an issue of identity. It was north western frontier province in the true sense of the word when the British were there. Now every province of Pakistan is a frontier province-one is eastern frontier province, the other is south western and the next is south eastern province. So, I don’t think NWFP is any name at all.
TNS: The NWFP is faced with an acute power and wheat-flour crises. Your opponents say the ANP and wheat-flour crisis are identical twins. What do you say?
AKH: It’s just a coincidence. I think the preceding caretaker government is to blame for the Atta crisis. They should have planned and sorted out the strategy for procurement and import of wheat which they didn’t. That is why the problem was inherited by the elected government. Our province doesn’t produce wheat sufficient for our needs. As provinces are not authorised to import wheat, we look towards Punjab and federal governments for our requirements. But even Punjab is faced with a wheat shortage and has to import wheat to feed its population. Lately, the ban on the supply of wheat by the Punjab government multiplied the crisis. Punjab government cited the alleged smuggling to Afghanistan and tribal areas as reasons for slapping the ban- but mind you, Pak-Afghan border is a loose border stretched upto fourteen hundred miles; it has always been very difficult to control movement across it even if we’ll allocate one million soldiers to the task; as long as the smuggling is there, the problem will be there. So there was a gap between demand and supply which exacerbated the problem. And now when supply-quota has been enhanced, the situation has eased out, although the greedy profiteers, who smuggled Atta to Afghanistan, have earned a lot of money. The fact is that the Pakistani planners prepare our food-estimates only for the four provinces but they overlook the reality that Pakistan has to feed the 20million people in tribal areas and as many in Afghanistan as well. So we’ll have to plan in advance to be able to supply atta to the population as per its demand.
TNS: What factors do you think contributed to the power crisis in the country?
AKH: The Musharraf administration has displayed a criminal negligence in this regard. It didn’t add up a single unit in the national grid in its eight years’ tenure while the population has increased about 40%. When demand increases and supply remains the same, there will certainly be a crisis and there is one. Again, the nature is also unkind to us as there is less water in our rivers. And while President Ayub had sold the rights of three rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi to India, the latter has built the Baglihar dam over Chenab and is planning another three. I think next wars will be fought only over water and grain.
TNS: It was being hoped that as ANP enjoyed pleasant relations with Hamid Karzai and India, there would be some relief on the two fronts with ANP coming into power. What are your views on that?
AKH: Haimd Karzai has some grievances. He is faced with an uprising and he thinks that insurgents enter into Afghanistan from tribal areas. India has its own problem with Pakistan on Kashmir. Where is ANP in this equation? ANP always asked for peaceful relations with neighbours and still abides by it. If we had friendly relations with our neighbours, there would have been problems with neither India nor Afghanistan like we don’t have with China. You are right, ANP could have served as a bridge but there are many anti-ANP forces that tried to create hurdles in its way.
TNS: Could you identify these forces please?
AKH: These forces are against the stability of Pakistan and peace in the region. They block the way of forces that could bring stability in the region. See! When we can have good relations with Iran and China, why can’t we have ones with India and Afghanistan? You stop interference in Afghanistan and stop infiltration of armed people into its territory from tribal built, relations will automatically improve. And if Afghanistan severs its relations with us even after that, it will be at fault. The fault lies primarily with us. And if we won’t do it ourselves, Afghanistan is now in the hands of the US and NATO forces and they will safeguard their interests at all costs. After all they haven’t come here to go back; they are here for Central Asia’s oil and gas reservoirs and will stay for long unless their interests are fulfilled. When we as their friends will not do what they say, they will do it themselves.
TNS: When Musharraf joined the coalition, ANP supported him along with PML Q and by default USA. Why did you take that decision?
AKH: Had the US troops not come to Afghanistan and expelled Usama and his men from there, Afghanistan would have ‘Arabanised’ within the next ten years. Arabs may be otherwise very good people but if they were there, half of pakhtoon nation would have been Arabs by now which was not acceptable to us. We Pakhtoons are not ready to compromise on our caste and identity which were endangered. Since Pakistan didn’t want to expel him nor could any other power ensure his ouster, we just thanked the US for this precise reason. We had said that Afghanistan should be left to fashion its affairs without any foreign interference. And say even now you keep your hands away and let Afghanis decide their future themselves.
TNS: You mean US and NATO troops should get out of there?
AKH: The US won’t leave unless and until Afghanistan achieves self-rule.
TNS: Don’t you think that the militancy/insurgency in the region is directly related to American presence here?
AKH: It was tied with it in the past too, with the difference that then they would fire there. But they have started doing it here now. And you look at the respective role of the religious parties. You know they had waged a holy war against the USSR. One is reminded of a picture of Qazi sahib having a Pistol tied to himself. But he doesn’t go for Jihad now; even he can’t talk of it. Can he now declare a Jihad against the US forces? The fact is he can go to war for America but not against it.
TNS: People say Musharaf has gone but his policies are still being followed. How do you respond?
AKH: No, this government has inherited the militancy problem from Musharraf. It will take some time and strategy to get out of the situation. It is unthinkable that the present regime can/will follow his policies, but it is caught up in the middle. What can it do and where can it go? The situation is not of its own making; it’s a Musharraf legacy.
TNS: What party-portfolio do you hold at present? Also, Mardan doesn’t have any representation in ANP’s central and provincial positions after Amir Haider Hoti bequeathed his Deputy General Secretaryship and became NWFP CM?
AKH:Yes there is none but it doesn’t matter. I have had neither hold nor have been given any slot in party; I never have sought one nor seek at present. We are all like a family and care the least for these things. We are all equal and respect each other. We are all activists of ANP working under a programme and leadership. There is no problem whatsoever of this sort in ANP.
TNS: There is a perception regarding ANP that it always has been looking for foreign support. For example, both USSR and now USA are accused of genocide of Pakhtoons but ANP kept mum on their actions. How do you react?
AKH: ANP has neither supported one nor the other. Regarding the 80’s war, ANP leaders had said that it was not a Jihad and was a war for the interests of USA and USSR while Pakhtoons were being crushed. And now, we say the foreign forces are making the Pakhtoons fight against each other to destroy them and to destabilise Pakistan. We have our own politics and programme. We neither look towards this side nor that side.
TNS: Would you like to share your future plans with us? Where would you prefer to go in case of any eventuality?
AKH: Politics is a merciless phenomenon. It doesn’t have a heart in its chest that beats. In it, a friend of today may well be an enemy of tomorrow and vice-versa. It’s very difficult to predict it.