In Dera Ghazi Khan, the Legharis have long established their rule. However, in the wake of the upcoming elections, tables have turned for the clan as they faces threats anew.
Enter, Zartaj Gul Akhwand, a 28-year-old candidate contesting NA-172 (DG Khan-II) from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) ticket. She is a novice but committed political worker, and is set to fight the political elite.
“Why should we be ruled by these dynasties?” she asked. “Middle class should also participate in the electoral process.”
Zartaj wants to help underprivileged communities in South Punjab and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which she believes have been kept in a state of neglect by elected leaders.
“People want to get rid of the Sardari system but they have never had a choice before,” she said. “I am part of the youth and I think they will vote this year to register their presence in mainstream politics.”
Zartaj’s has been a representative of this demographic category. Her brief political journey has taken her from being a youth wing office-bearer to a National Assembly candidate on a general seat. She is one of the three female candidates PTI has fielded on a general seat for the lower house in the upcoming elections.
Zartaj uses a two-fold campaigning strategy to win over NA-172 – a part-urban, part-tribal constituency. Through her academic background she’s gaining support from the young and educated urban populace, and through her tribal heritage, she’s trying to muster the support of the many Baloch dwelling in the rural areas of the constituency.
“This is a kind of privilege,” she said.
“The tribals call me their daughter and they are impressed that someone with a non-feudal past has ventured into the rural areas.”
Hailing from North Waziristan, Zartaj pursued her undergraduate studies at Lahore’s Queen’s Mary College and then went to National College of the Arts for her postgraduate studies.
Her journey with PTI began as a volunteer at Shaukat Khanum. But when she married Akhwand Humayun Raza Khan – an avid supporter of PTI – the couple found their way into the party. “They call us the golden couple of PTI,” she giggled.
Zartaj said she has faced no discrimination or security issue campaigning in the constituency’s rural areas.
Despite a busy schedule, there are moments when she reflects on how fast things have moved for her.
“A few years ago, I hadn’t even dreamt that I would be contesting the elections for the National Assembly,” she said.
She heavily prioritises education, health and municipal issues for the constituency.
She spoke vividly about the presence of ghost schools, lack of education and health facilities for women and the horrible state of roads in NA-127. She intends to fix them if she is voted to power.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2013.