Unlike the rest of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ agencies, where elections are affected by militancy, Orakzai also harbours a hidden threat of sectarianism. A number of candidates from both sunni and shia communities have been awarded tickets by political parties in the agency.
As election fever gathered tempo, residents of the agency demanded the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) create another constituency in the region. Currently, NA-39 is the only constituency in Orakzai with around 125,000 voters including 32,000 shias and 80,000 sunnis. Tribesmen from both sects demanded the government create another constituency as no one wanted to vote in favour of a candidate who belonged to a sect which was not their own.
In the past, local shia jirga’s would convince candidates from their sect to withdraw their applications so that a single candidate could contest the elections and attract most of the small shia vote bank. Despite having nearly three times the number of votes, sunnis were unable to reach the National Assembly from the constituency due to this tactic. However, this time the situation is different with 18 shia candidates contesting free of the Jirga’s influence, indicating shia votes will be distributed. The same number of sunni candidates will contest in the coming elections. Nine aspirants will contest from Ghiljo in the upper subdivision, while the remaining 27 will be standing in the lower subdivision of the agency, Kalaya.
Campaigning in Orakzai
The stark division between the two sects can be overcome by political parties who have the capability of creating cohesion and bringing members of both communities under one banner.
Due to the ongoing military operation in agency’s upper parts, election campaigns have been halted. However, in Lower Orakzai, the situation is completely different. Even though the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are not as enthusiastic as others, they continue to hold corner meetings and conduct door-to-door drives.
Kalaya in Lower Orakzai is the agency centre for all political party activists. Here, despite being threatened, ANP candidate for NA-39 Basharat Hussain Mian has been able to launch his election campaign. Hussain said unlike other ANP workers who are restricted in their campaigns, he has been able to hold a number of meetings and even visit internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in refugee camps in Hangu. “I am not sure who will win in the polls, but the tide is not in our favour,” he admitted, explaining although he was relatively free, he could not gather supporters as freely as religious political party candidates could.
Similarly, Former MNA Jawad Hussain who is contesting on a PPP ticket is also having problems gathering party activists. He is in favour of holding corner meetings throughout the agency, even though PPP and ANP movement is near impossible in Orakzai’s upper regions.
Raj Muhammad and Tahir Iqbal, the respective candidates of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), are meanwhile holding gatherings in various IDP camps and visiting Kohat. However, despite having the freedom to campaign, they have been unable to stir the tribesmen. Similarly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate Malik Speen Gul and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid candidate Suhrab Ali, have been unable to extend their votes banks.
Two candidates, who according to the tribesmen will gain a majority of the votes, are those from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Muttahida Qabail Party (MQP).
The PTI has awarded a ticket to Malik Attiqur Rahman while the MQP has elected Habib Noor. “Our competition is not with the other parties, it is with the strongest independent candidates,” said Rahman. He also claimed the ongoing corruption and failure of previous political parties to deliver on their promises had caused tribesmen, especially the younger voters, to support the PTI.
In the face of all this, it is actually the independent candidates that have the best chance of winning in the constituency. Three candidates, Syed Fazal Abbas Mian, Syed Noor Akbar and Dr Ghazi Gulab Jamal are considered to be the strongest independents. In explaining the political scenario of NA-39, Abbas said elections in the agency were dominated by personalities as opposed to political parties, adding tribesmen rallied to individual persons.
Candidates aside, it still remains to be seen what can be done to facilitate the voting rights of Orakzai’s IDPs. These people have claimed they will only vote for those candidates that promise to repatriate them to their homes after the new government takes its place. The approximately 0.1 million displaced persons will be able to turn the tables for any candidate they choose to vote for, indicating true power ultimately lies with them.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2013.