PESHAWAR: For decades, the people of Karak were swayed by slogans and claims of providing clean drinking water at their doorstep. This election, however, a new slogan has been added to that: promises of gas supply.
The slogan follows on from the discovery of oil and gas in the district.
Residents of the district have been protesting, demanding access to the utilities.
During the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), residents had resorted to blocking the Indus Highway, which passes through the district, demanding gas supply.
With the elections just days away, the 19 candidates vying for the sole national assembly seat in the district and the 29 candidates for the two provincial assembly seats of the district have been whipping up rhetoric around this demand.
Karak is a southeastern district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) with a total population of 706,299. According to the records of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), there are a total of 404,475 registered voters in the district, including 225,953 men and 178,504 women.
There are three seats up for grabs in the districting, including one for the national assembly NA-34 Karak and two provincial assembly seats including PK-85 Karak-I and PK-86 Karak-II.
NA-34, known as NA-15 before the delimitations earlier this year, went to the rising force, PTI, in the May 2013 general elections with Nasir Khan Khattak securing the seat with 51, 481 votes.
He beat off competition from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Rehmat Salam Khattak ] who bagged 29,815 votes, marginally more than Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) Shah Abdul Aziz who managed to secure 29,224 votes.
That election had bucked the trend of the 2008 and 2002 elections when both were won by candidates backed by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Mufti Ajmal Khan in 2008 had secured 28,665 votes.
This time, as many as 19 candidates will be facing off in the elections for the seat, down from 21 who contested in 2013.
After a gap in the 2013 elections, the MMA is contesting the constituency once again, fielding Mir Zakim Khan.
Having grabbed the seat the last time with a margin of over 20,000 votes, the PTI is hoping for a repeat. However, this time they, like the MMA, have opted to go with a different candidate than the one who delivered them the seat the last time, fielding Shahid Ahmad Khattak.
Shahid is a relative youngster with a postgraduate degree in food sciences. He is also the president of the K-P Insaf Student Federation — and interestingly lists that as his primary occupation.
While he does not have substantial electoral experience, he does enjoy strong backing from the youth.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is fielding seasoned politician and former federal finance minister Nawabzada Mohsin Ali Khan in the constituency. The PPP does not enjoy a great history in the constituency with its candidates barely giving an account of themselves in the May 2013 and the February 2008 polls.
The PML-N is hedging its bets on Rehmat once again.
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) is going with former MDM candidate Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz.
The Awami National Party (ANP), though, is not directly fielding any candidate from the district.
Locals say that Shahid, a diehard worker of the PTI with support from the youth and the weight of his party behind him, is considered a top contender in the elections. They added that PTI still has a strong vote-bank in the district despite the fact that its former MNA from the constituency, Nasir, who has not bothered to visit the district since his election in 2013.
“Although Shahid lacks the support and company of elders in his campaign, but the power of youth cannot be underestimated,” said Zafar Khattak—a senior Karak-based lawyer who keeps a track on the political ups and downs in the district.
About the MMA, Zafar said that it had reigned in the district twice. While it cannot be underestimated, he said that Maulana Aziz of the JUI-S is sure to divide the religious vote-bank which MMA is banking on.
PML-N’s Rehmat, though, stands some chance. Zafar said that the PML-N candidate is likely to attract some sympathy vote after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested while his personal position is also quite strong in the area since he has been active for a very long time.
Local journalist Omair Khattak says that the PPP candidate Nawabzada Mohsin Ali Khan has his “own silent vote” who will head towards the polling station on July 25.
“Presently, every candidate going door-to-door in the constituency is vowing to hold the government to account for the oil and gas royalties owed to the area and promising gas and drinking water at their doorstep,” Omair said.
Provincial assembly seats
For PK-85, 11 candidates are in the running while 18 candidates are in the running for PK-86.
In the former constituency, the MMA is fielding Mian Nisar Gul. The PTI is fielding Farid Toofan.
The ANP is fielding its former stalwart Muhammad Khursheed.
Independent candidate Javed Iqbal, who is affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) but could not secure an MMA ticket from the area, is said to affect votes for Gul.
This will benefit the ANP and PTI candidates.
In the PK-86, the main contest is said to be between the PTI and the MMA.
PTI is fielding Malik Qasim Khattak who has won the seat consecutively in the last two elections as an independent candidate — even beating out the PTI candidate in the constituency Saleem Khattak in the 2013 polls by securing 19,096 votes compared to Saleem’s 15,789 votes.
The MMA, though, has fielded a strong candidate Malik Zafar Azam, a former provincial law minister who has a strong vote-bank in the area.
Furthermore, Azam hopes that the public would have become tired of Qasim’s two consecutive tenures in office and will be looking for a change.
Moreover, the PTI candidate for PK-86 will be facing competition from fellow party worker Mansoor Ahmed who has decided to contest as an independent after being ignored for a ticket.
Omair says that promises of oil and gas royalties are quite lucrative for candidates with each sparing no expense to ensure they bag the seat.
“Candidates have signed affidavits with families for setting-up tube-wells in return for votes. Funds needed for the tube-wells have been kept with a third-person with the condition that in the event of victory, the funds will be spent on tube-wells,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2018.