The federal government has yet to announce a schedule for general election 2013, but Khyber Agency-a gateway to historical warriors in the past- witnesses now-a-days a temperate political race. Despite fears of terror acts by militants, military operations and even political parties have not yet nominated their FATA candidates; however, political campaigns have gotten momentum. Several old and new political faces have come forward to contest elections.
Interestingly, politicians, who never visited the Jalozai camp where tribal people migrated due to persistent military operations started in 2008 and four years prolong curfew imposed in 2009, frequently come to distribute commodities in order to win hearts of war-hit oppressed 12,083 IDPs (families). One can see political campaign in the shape of advertisements daily in different local and mainstream newspapers, while some political persons hired billboards and signboards for publicizing their political manifesto and agenda. Some political figures used their Hujrahs for corner meetings and convincing their voters by one way or another. Some politicians are using issue of massive assassination of 19 tribals in Bara to make political score by taking participation in different jirgas with political administration in order to lift the prolong curfew. Releasing of curfew will be a big achievement for any political figure, as curfew intervals in past four years devastated Bara bazaar and its business.
The new emerging party Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) has not yet conducted its intra-party elections; however dozen of its members wish to contest elections. The new political face PTI Iqbal Afridi is the expected candidate for the NA-46 constituency and Rahman Gul Malagori is another PTI’s proposed candidate for NA-45 constituency of Khyber Agency, while a locally eminent figure Khan Shaid, and Eng. Noor Alam Afridi, Amin Zadar and others are also in the race to get PTI tickets. Iqbal Afridi sees Imran Khan’s graph in the FATA ascending day by day. “We will conduct 2013 general elections at any cost in FATA, despites of some common people, even candidates feel threats by militants in the area,” Iqbal Afridi claimed.
Jamat-e-Islami has nominated two candidates Zer Noor Afridi, Deputy Secretary JI FATA, for NA-45 and Shah Faisal Afridi, Ameer JI Khyber Agency, for NA-46. Muslim League (N) candidate Malik Ikramullah for NA-45 belongs to Koki Khel. PPP’s expected candidate for NA-45 is Hazrat Wali, the President of PPP Khyber Agency. Former MNA and Federal Minister Malik Waris, the President of PPP FATA is the expected candidate for NA-46.
The two incumbent MNA and ex-Federal Minister for Zakat, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, belongs to Landi Kotal (NA-45) and MNA and ex-Federal Minister for Environment, Hameedullah Jan Afridi, belongs to Bara (NA-46) has also planned to test their fates once again. Noor-ul-Haq Qadri and some other political figures almost use Peshawar as political plate form by holding small gatherings there. Shams-ud-Din of JUI (F) has applied for ticket for NA-46 and it is said that he is being supported by jihadi group Ansarul Islam.
The new emerging political figure in Khyber Agency is Shah Ji Gul, the owner of Al-Hajj Company, transporter and oil supplier to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Shah Ji Gul, planed to contest from NA-45 as an independent candidate and spent millions of rupees on arranging corner meetings with locals, holding small jirgas (tribal gathering), making frequent visits to Jalozai camps. A prominent industrialist and owner of a popular electronic products company, Mohammad Shah Afridi is also spending huge money to win the election in NA-46.
One of the amazing things one can observe is the announcement of contesting election 2013, by spokesman of a Jihadi group Amar Bil Maroof wa Nahye Anel Munkar, Munsif Ali Khan Afridi to participate in mainstream politics and to contest in coming election from NA-46. It is in fact a great breakthrough.
Some analysts are of the plea that Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahye Anel Munkar, limited to Ber Qamber Khel area, the birth place of Munsif, has brought peace in locality due to which his entire tribe will support him in election. Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahye Anel Munkar, was established by Namdar, killed in a suicide attack by TTP, who was a strong opponent to TTP in Khyber Agency. Namdar’s father-in-law Gulabat Khan had provided shelter to Osama Bin Laddin in Teerah Velly during 1996. Gulabat Khan was killed during a Jirga while settling disputes of OBL and Al-Qaeeda with the locals. As compensation, he sent Namdar to Saudi Arabia for performing Hajj and supported him in making Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahye Anel Munkar, which is now-a-days considered a pro-government organization. Munsif is an educated person and has been Managing Editor of a Pashtu language local magazine Leekwal (writer).
On the other hand, election commission of Pakistan (ECP) has geared up its paper work for general elections. Khyber Agency, consist of two constituencies NA-45 (consists of Jamrud and Landi Kotal) and NA-46 (Bara Tehsil), has collectively 3, 20,000 registered voters; furthermore each NA-45 has 170, 000 (Male 100, 781 and Female 69, 219) registered voters and NA-46 has 150,000 (Male 1, 02, 182 and Female 47, 818) registered voters. “Election Commission has proposed 116 polling stations in NA-45 and 93 polling stations in NA-46,” Agency Election Officers Khyber Agency Abdul Qayyum Shinwari told.
According to 1998 national census Khyber Agency has nearly 0.5 million (546,730) population. Bara Tehsil has 48 percent and Jamrud Tehsil hold 52 percent of the population of Khyber Agency, but a large number of Bara population displaced in the form of IDPs following imposition of curfew and military operation. According to FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), 12,083 IDPs living in Jalozai camp and 53, 353 IDPs are out of the camps living with their relatives. The Apex Court of the country has also ordered to make arrangements for IDPs to poll their votes inside the camp.
Despite all these political struggles there are some all-important issues that could have impact on 2013 elections in Khyber Agency, should be addressed on priority basis.
First, security and law and order situation is one of the utmost important issues that could remain like sword of Damocles over the head of all the candidates and voters throughout the election process. Having fears of terrorist acts in mind, no candidate can dare to arrange big processions and Jalsas (political gatherings).
Second, the TTP and local militants are very active in Khyber Agency. Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam are still engaged in harsh rivalry. In the 2008 elections, candidates for NA-45 had some freedom to arrange processions, held political gatherings and run their election campaigns but then a strict ban on the election campaign in NA-46 was imposed by the head of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) Mangal Bagh. Mangal Bagh held a joint Jalsa of all candidates in Mandi Kas area just three days before the polling, in which candidates announced their manifestos and agendas. Mangal Bagh even take oath from candidates. Political administration and security forces should handle such like issues that challenge the write of the government.
Third, Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri and some other political figures face life threats due to sectarian pretext. In 2008, four close relatives of Qadri had been gunned down by unknown assailants. That is why, some of the candidates use Peshawar instead of their own constituencies as political sub-camp for their election campaigns. Religious scholars and parties should create environment for sectarian coherence and religious harmony; furthermore government should own responsibility of safety of life of its citizens.
Fourth, it has been learnt that military leadership will never allow IDPs to go back to their homes until it reaches to a written accord with the tribes of Bara not to support any terrorist group in the future, as it has been observed that people of this areas has supported militants group and even remained part of these terror groups. So, concrete measures should be taken for lifting curfew in the sense that people of Bara take active participation in political process and they elect their own candidates.
Fifth, population of Khyber Agency is scattered and voters may not have easy access to polling station. That is why, some of the political leaders opined to conduct polling inside Jalozai camp to increase voting turn out; as usually turn out in Bara is just six to seven thousands only and now a big chunk of voters will have access easily to polling stations inside Jalozai camp. But in such a situation, as these IDPs are vulnerable and needy, so any candidate can easily exploit this situation by bribing them with money and other means. It is the responsibility of political administration, election commission, civil societies and mainstream media to run campaign for political awareness of voters in Jalozai camp to use their vote in the right way.
In nutshell, federal government, governor of KPK, political administration, political and leaders, judiciary, election commission and especially military leadership should pave the way for restoring peace in Khyber Agency in order to conduct free, fair and safe election in the area.