What the Minar-e-Pakistan is to Lahore, Thakra Stadium is to Mansehra – at least as far as political rally grounds are concerned. This is where the political parties contesting the two National Assembly seats on the district, NA-20 and NA-21-II, gather to show their strength.
Mansehra is a complex district. Located near the Eastern border of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is not far from Afghanistan which explains the influx of Afghan refugees in the past few years. Mansehra and Oghi are the two main cities in the district, and the rest of the population lives in rural areas.
Factors affecting vote bank:
Here voters don’t cast their votes so much as they vote their caste, and it is the clans that rule the roost. The vote bank in these two constituencies is divided among the Swati, Tanoli, Syed, Gujjar and other smaller clans, as well as the Pashto speaking population. It’s an indication of the importance of clan ties that Captain Safdar, who was accused of passing derogatory remarks about the Swati clan, is trying hard to counter this claim through clarifications and advertisements in local newspapers.
“Janba”, a kind of lobbying based on personal contacts, is also a factor. Salahuddin Saeed Tanoli and Azam Swati, both PTI candidates, are considered the best at this kind of politics, but their habit of changing political loyalties seems to have damaged their reputation.
Language also affects loyalties. While Hindko is the main language, we find Pashto, Gojri and Kohistani speakers as well. It may thus be difficult for the PML-N to get support from Pashto speaking population in this area due to its slogan of making a separate Hazara province.
In these two constituencies the mosque is the centre of all activities, serving also as a place for candidates to meet voters.
Contestants of 2013 – A game of chess
The PTI is facing a unique challenge. Its central leader Azam Swati, who is contesting from NA-21, will not campaign for his party’s candidate in the adjacent constituency NA-20, where his younger brother Laiq Khan is contesting on JUI-F’s ticket. Swati, who was previously an activist of the JUI-F, can face a setback in NA-20, as the JUI-F had issued a ticket in this constituency to Qasim Shah. Swati may not able to attract Deobandi voters because of quitting the JUI-F.
PTI has fielded Nawabzada Salahuddin Saeed from NA-21 (II), who belongs to the Tanoli clan, even though it is the Swati clan’s support that is needed here. Besides Laiq Khan, PTI will face another strong opponent in this constituency – Captain Safdar, son in law of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif.
The PML-Q will support JUI-F’s candidate Qasim Shah in this constituency. The PML-Q’s Zar Gul Khan is contesting from NA-21 (II) as an independent candidate, and he enjoys the support of the Pashtun population of the area.
Sardar Yousuf, a former district nazim was a key PML-Q figure in Hazara, but recently joined PML-N and will contest from NA-21. Yousaf’s Gujjar clan has a solid vote bank vote bank even in the adjacent constituency NA-21 (II) and can strengthen Captain Safdar’s campaign. PML-N had failed to secure the NA-21 (II) seat in 2002 and JI’s Maulana Abdul Malik was elected from this constituency. In 2008, PML-N’s Faiz Khan won this seat, while JI boycotted elections. JI’s support in this constituency is crucial.
Nawabzada Salahuddin Saeed remained undefeated from 1985 to 1997 from NA-21 (II), but could not secure this seat during the last three elections. After quitting PML-N, Saeed joined PML-Q in 2002. He contested elections on the ticket of PPP in 2008 and later joined the ANP only to end up in the PTI.
Captain Safdar, being the son-in-law of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif is a strong candidate for NA-21 (II), though there is concern that he has yet to fully start his campaign. Many of the local Gujjars will also support him.
Sardar Mohammad Yousaf of PML-N is mainly relying on the Gujjar clan in the constituency of NA-20. He is the only candidate who will also support his party’s candidate in the adjacent constituency NA-21.
Azam Swati’s credentials as a man who is well-versed in Islamic teachings will serve him well in this constituency. He is the PTI’s strongest candidate in Mansehra.
Qasim Shah, a JUI-F candidate, also considered an Islamic scholar, will affect Swati’s vote bank. Shah enjoys support from his widely respected Syed clan ‘due to which voters from other clans are also inclined towards him.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2013.