Although the Taliban may play a decisive role in elections in North Waziristan, their top commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur will reserve his group from interfering in the process.
“Taliban do not interfere in voting. It is the people’s matter,” said a member of Bahadur’s group. A similar stance was also taken during the 2008 general elections when Malik Kamran Khan, an independent candidate, won the seat.
This is unlike South Waziristan, where Maulana Abdul Malik won from NA-41 and later joined the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). Winning candidates prior to 2008 general elections were also affiliated with the JUI-F.
Although the JUI-F in also the main party in North Waziristan Agency, it is up against some serious competition, considering more than 12 candidates will be contesting elections from the area.
The voter turnout in the February 2008 general elections in NA-40 faired low, with 27.87% of registered voters (35,254 votes) turning up to vote, of which 591 votes were rejected.
A total of 21 candidates contested the elections, but Malik Kamran Khan secured most votes, 5,894, while Abdul Qayum was runner up with 5,441. Malik’s electoral position seems threatened now as many tribesmen have complained of his dismal performance and claim that no major project was started or completed in the agency in his tenure.
Fida Wazir, JUI-F’s shura member, said the party will resist any external pressure when nominating its candidate for North Waziristan, adding that the shura has not yet decided one.
There is speculation the JUI-F will issue a party ticket to Pir Aqal Jan, who hails from North Waziristan but runs a travel agency in Peshawar. Aurangzeb is another hopeful for a JUI-F ticket.
Both candidates belong to wealthy backgrounds and are said to be influential in the region’s politics. Considering this, there seems to be a shift in JUI-F’s strategy of preferring financially powerful candidates over those from a religious background.
Naik Kamal, who has been campaigning in the agency, said he will contest the NA-40 seat on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ticket.
Fata’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Organiser Dr Bashir Khan also said he will contest elections from the constituency. Malik Riaz is another contender for a PTI ticket from NA-40. The party, however, lacks support in the agency as the intra-party elections were postponed and it is yet to elect a cabinet representing North Waziristan.
Advocate Humayun Wazir, a young LLB graduate who recently completed his law degree from the University of Peshawar, will also contest from NA-40 as an independent candidate. There are many like Wazir who have similar goals.
Participation of women voters at the polls is hostage to the will of the local cleric. Although in the 2008 general elections, women in Wana, South Waziristan and in some parts of North Waziristan did cast votes, their choices were determined by the male members of the family.
Dawar and Wazir, the two main tribes in North Waziristan, have stark differences in their attitude towards women voting. The Dawar tribe is relatively more educated than the Wazir tribe and mostly live in cities. Women from the Dawar tribe usually come to polling stations, but their counterparts in the Wazirs avoid doing so because of ‘parda’.
Tribes gear up for pre-election polling
Tribes in Shawa and Spin Wam tehsil in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, are also gearing up for the May 11 polls. A tribal jirga held on March 23 decided they will elect one candidate out of the three hopefuls wishing to represent NA-40.
Pre-election polling will be conducted where people will vote for the candidate of their choice. Whoever wins the popular vote, will contest the general elections representing the Shawa and Spin Wam tribes. Arrangements for setting polling stations and ballot papers at different places in the two tehsils have also been made.
Three candidates shortlisted are social worker Qismat Khan Wazir, political activist Nazeer Khan Wazir, and Maulana Gul Rehman, a businessman in the United Arab Emirates. All candidates belong to the two tehsils in Mir Ali.
“All the tribes of Spin Wam and Shawa tehsil have agreed to bring forward one candidate from NA-40, who we will all vote for in the general elections. If our candidate wins, he can address our problems,” said Liaqat Ali khan, a resident of tehsil Spin Wam.
Both tribes will also play a crucial role in electing JUI-F’s candidate as well because tribesmen from Wazir and Dawar tribes have strong representation in the party’s North Waziristan shura.
Talks with the TTP
The JUI-F’s initiative of holding talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was quashed after the terrorist outfit revoked its offer for talks, blaming the government for its ‘non-seriousness.’
The peace talks, which were mutually agreed upon by the all-parties conference called by the JUI-F in Islamabad, were pre-planned and had been in the works since March 2012. If they had been successful, the talks would have put the JUI-F in a favourable position to win electoral seats with the backing of the Taliban in Fata.
Alhough the TTP maintains a considerable presence in North Waziristan, observers are speculating the banned organisation will not interfere in the polls.
A TTP pamphlet distributed few months back in North Waziristan stated the group will abide by the peace agreement between the Government of Pakistan and the agency’s tribes.
While any agreement will enable the JUI-F to field candidates and achieve positions of power, it will also give the Taliban some breathing space that could enable them to recuperate, reorganise, and better arm themselves militarily.
Pro-government Taliban groups, including those of Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir are said to be in favour of the peace talks with the TTP. Peace with the TTP could ensure Bahadur and Nazir’s peace agreements with the government remain intact.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2013.