Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao
Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao is one of Pakistan’s most senior and well known political leaders and the founding Chairman of Qaumi Watan Party. Mr. Sherpao has been at the forefront of Pakistani politics for four decades during which he has consistently been advocating greater autonomy for Pakistan’s provinces and struggling to protect the rights of its smaller ethnicities, in particular the Pashtun population of Pakistan. Due to his unfailing stance on the issues facing Pashtuns as well as his overall stature at the federal level, Mr. Sherpao is respectfully referred to as Milli Rahbar by his admirers and followers throughout the country.
Mr. Sherpao has held senior governmental offices at both the federal and provincial levels. He served as the Federal Interior Minister from 2004 to 2007 besides which he has held numerous portfolios in the Federal Cabinet including Minister for Water and Power, Minister for Kashmir Affairs & Northern Areas and States & Frontier Regions, Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, and Minister for Defence Production.
He has served as the chief executive of the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously known as the North West Frontier Province) twice having been elected as the Chief Minister in 1988 and then again in 1994. Prior to this he has also served as a Provincial Minister heading various departments including Industries, Minerals, Local Government and Rural Development.
Mr. Sherpao is internationally known as a vociferous advocate of improving Pak-Afghan ties and has been spearheading efforts to bring both countries closer for many years. In 2007, he was nominated as Chairman of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Peace Jirga in Kabul, an initiative to bring together politicians, community leaders and notables to discuss peace and security between the two countries. This Jirga was widely considered a momentous effort for promoting peace between the two neighbouring countries. Mr. Sherpao continues to focus a lot of his time and political energy on Afghanistan. Amongst his numerous initiatives and efforts, he is the current Convener of the Pak-Afghan Parliamentary Friendship Group in the National Assembly.
Since actively entering politics in 1976, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao has been elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan five times and the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seven times from various constituencies. He has also served as Leader of the Opposition in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, having been elected to this position on three occasions. Mr. Sherpao’s popularity within Pakistan is evidenced by the fact that he is the only politician from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who has been consistently elected to the National Assembly and/or the Provincial Assembly in every general election since 1976 (with the exception of the controversial 1985 election which Mr. Sherpao boycotted in protest).
As is the case with many leading figures in history, Mr. Sherpao’s entry into public life was a matter of necessity rather than choice. His older brother, Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao (Shaheed), was a young charismatic Pushtun political leader, former Governor and Minister, and founding member of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao’s promising political career ended prematurely when he was tragically martyred in a bomb blast in Peshawar in 1975. Hayat Sherpao’s assassination is considered a public tragedy in Pakistan and has since shaped the political landscape in Pakistan. His martyrdom was to serve as the inspiration of the Qaumi Watan Party and its revolutionary manifesto. In the wake of this national tragedy, Mr. Sherpao had to reluctantly end his military service of 12 years prematurely on the insistence of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who asked him to serve his country by entering the political arena.
In continuation of the legacy founded by his older brother, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao served in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for over two decades. During this time he served under both Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto and led the PPP to a plurality of successes in the NWFP. Under his leadership the PPP formed governments twice in NWFP, first in 1988 and then again in 1994. The PPP has never since achieved such success without him. Having served as Provincial President of the Pakistan Peoples Party for over 20 years, in recognition of his success and political stature, he was elevated as the Central Senior Vice Chairman of the PPP. After the disappointing election results of 1997 for the PPP, Mr. Sherpao and Ms. Bhutto developed serious differences on certain principled stances taken by Mr. Sherpao, including inter alia his proposal for introducing reforms within the party to help them serve the masses in a better way. This ultimately led to the end of the long relationship between Mr. Sherpao and the PPP.
Months before the 2002 general election, Mr. Sherpao founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (Sherpao) (PPP(S)). The PPP(S) stuck to the socialist ideals of the original PPP co-founded by Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao and the guiding vision of Mr. Sherpao’s struggle to protect the rights of the smaller provinces and ethnicities of Pakistan. This party was to breathe new life into Pakistani politics as just months after its inception, it emerged as the second largest party in the NWFP Provincial Assembly. PPP(S) was subsequently renamed Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) in 2012 to more accurately reflect its neo-nationalist stance. Currently QWP is one of the largest political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and retains a significant presence in the other federating units of Pakistan, in particular the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan.
Mr. Sherpao’s political success and struggle has come at a great cost. Due to his pro-democracy stance and being a key leader of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), he was imprisoned multiple times by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. This led to his unlawful incarceration for four years. Mr. Sherpao, who is a staunch advocate of peace in the region, has also been targeted by militants numerous times. Despite three deadly suicide bomb attacks and numerous other failed attempts, Mr. Sherpao refuses to curb his political activities and regularly attends public gatherings.
Prior to his illustrious political career, Mr. Sherpao served in the Pakistan Army after having graduated from the Pakistan Military Academy with the 34th Long Course in 1965 and joining the Armoured Corps in the Probyn’s Horse Regiment. During his brief military career he served in a number of capacities and received distinctions in various courses. Mr. Sherpao has the honour of having served his Country by engaging in active battle in two wars in 1965 and then again in 1971.
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