Muzaffargarh may be backward in terms of development but has dominated Punjab politics since the 1950s. Nawab Mushtaq Gurmani introduced Muzaffargarh to national politics when he signed the Karachi Agreement of 1949 that established the ceasefire line (Line of Control) dividing the Kashmir region.
Apart from his posts as chief executive for the Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Ministry and governor of Punjab, he was also Pakistan’s interior minister from 1951 till 1954. During the PPP government of the 1970s, Muzaffargarh was represented by Ghulam Mustafa Khar who served as chief minister and Punjab governor. Meanwhile, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan also made Muzaffargarh proud — through his opposition politics.
Since parliamentary politics resumed in 1988, after the long hiatus that was Gen Zia’s dictatorship, the politics of Muzaffargarh’s four tehsils has been dominated by the Khars, the Nawab family, the Hinjras, the Dastis, the Qureshis, the Jatois and the Gopangs. There are five National Assembly and 11 provincial assembly seats from Muzaffargarh.
In the 2008 elections, all NA and six PA seats were won by the PPP that included personalities that shot to prominence including Hina Rabbani Khar and Jamshed Dasti.
The 2002 elections introduced several new faces because of the degree bar. Muzaffargarh was represented by three women at the national level and three men: Khalida Mohsin Qureshi (PPP NA-176), Hina Rabbani Khar (PML-Q NA-177), Tehmina Dasti (PML-Q reserved seat). NA-178 was won by PML-Q’s Shahid Jameel Qureshi and NA-179 by Syed Basit Sultan of the same party. The PPP’s Qayyum Jatoi won NA-180.
Elections officers say that in Muzaffargarh district there are 1,660,926 registered votes.
This time, NA-176 will see Dr Shabbir Qureshi as the PPP candidate since his father Mohsin Qureshi has been in a coma since 2009. The PML-N will field either Sultan Hinjra or Arshad Qureshi. The candidate left by the PML-N is likely to be the PTI candidate.
Another aspirant is Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar, who is now a Pakistan Muslim League-Functional candidate. He is attempting to be a joint candidate of the PML-N and PML-F as his long absence from the constituency, which he won in previous elections, indicates dismal chances of victory. On the other hand, the PML-N is also frustrating his effort for seat adjustment. The PML-N reportedly offered him NA-177 where it has no potential candidate, but the senior Khar refused to face his younger brother PPP candidate Noor Rabbani Khar.
In NA-177, Hina Rabbani Khar’s father Noor Rabbani Khar is the PPP candidate while the PML-N has chosen Khalid Gurmani, two-time runner-up to Hina Rabbani Khar in 2002 and 2008. Meanwhile, a former tehsil nazim Rafiq Khar has revolted against the PML-N and has decided to contest elections as an independent candidate. Jamshed Dasti who has left the PPP is also an independent candidate for this seat. He was recently sentenced to a three-year jail term and told to pay a fine of Rs5,000 by the Muzaffargarh district and sessions court for holding a fake degree. Later, his conviction was overturned by an election tribunal. His appeal against his disqualification will be taken up on April 15. Noor Rabbani Khar has decided that his daughter Hina will not run after Jamshed Dasti allegedly used abusive language against her.
The NA-178 seat is unpredictable. Formerly a staunch PML-N leader and the son of Nawabzada Nasrullah, Nawabzada Iftikhar is now a PPP ticket holder after being rejected by the PML-N. Earlier, Sajid Naeem Qureshi, the brother of former state minister Shahid Jameel Qureshi, was a PPP candidate for this seat.
Here too, Jamshed Dasti is contesting polls as an independent candidate while the PML-N’s choice is Sardar Ebad Dogar, a former Sipah-i-Sahaba leader whose claim to fame lies in his announcement of Rs10 million head money on the late governor Salmaan Taseer for voicing support for blasphemy convict Asia Masih.
For NA-179 and 180, Moazzam and Qayyum Jatoi will be PPP candidates while the PML-N’s choices are Haroon Sultan Bukhari and Abdullah Bukhari.
While former PML-Q MNA Ashiq Gopang says he has not left the PML-Q he is nevertheless contesting elections as an independent candidate. Here another setback is awaiting the PML-N as the Bukharis are dogged by dual nationality charges and have been summoned by the ECP. Having seen defection from its ranks, the PML-N might have learnt a lesson: never to gather all foes under one umbrella on political promises.
The PTI is also a factor in Muzaffargarh politics. Among its potential candidates is Nawab Mansoor Khan, the eldest son of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and former Punjab revenue minister. He is running for NA-179 while for NA-180 there is another former MNA, Jameel Bukhari.