PESHAWAR: Electoral dynamics in Kurram Agency are different from other administrative units of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (Fata) due to sectarian divide and pluralistic society.
Non-Pakhtuns, including Dari-speaking Hazaras, Khushi, Punjabis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, live there in large numbers and have the right to vote.
Unlike few other tribal agencies of Fata, candidates of major political parties, including both liberal and religious ones, are contesting elections on both seats of the National Assembly in Kurram Valley.
Political parties, which have adopted a clear stand against militancy, haven’t fielded their candidates in some tribal agencies.
Significant aspect of the electoral politics in the far-flung area is that women have never been barred from casting vote in elections and rather, they are encouraged to cast vote.
Record number of women voters has been registered.
Of the total 265,365 registered voters, there are 109,035 women in NA-37 (Kurram-1), which is among the few constituencies in the country, where around 62 per cent people turned up at poling stations in the 2008 elections.
Delimitation has apparently been carried out along sectarian lines in Kurram.
Shias are in absolute majority in NA-37, comprising upper subdivision and parts of lower subdivision, while Sunnis have a huge edge in NA-38, which comprised entire central subdivision and parts of lower Kurram.
Sectarian temperature has always remained low during election days since adult franchise was introduced in Fata in 1997.
Sectarianism is an old phenomenon in Kurram Valley, badly affecting its demographic structure, social fabric and economy.
Extension of Political Parties Order, 2002 to Fata provided opportunity to parties to make inroads in this isolated and out of bound region of the country.
Role of political parties, which has been instrumental in bringing Fata people to the mainstream, can resolve sectarian strife and intra-tribe rivalries.
However, two mainstream religio-political parties, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and Jamaat-i-Islami, which propagate harmony among various sects in the country, have adopted divergent approach in Kurram Agency.
Both parties have awarded tickets for elections on sectarian basis and ignored ground realities though they can bring key role in resolving sectarian issue.
JI could win sufficient support and popularity in NA-37 if it fields candidates from the majority group not on sectarian basis. In present circumstances, both JI and JUI-F are generally considered sectarian parties in larger parts of Kurram Agency.
Other political parties, including Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and even All Pakistan Muslim League, have fielded candidates in NA-37.
A total of 25 candidates are in the race.
However, tough contest is expected among former MNA Sajid Hussain Turi, former air chief martial Syed Qaiser Hussain and Syed Iqbal Mian.
Wealth and personalities of candidates are believed to be driving force to win election in the society but Anjuman-i-Hussania (AH), a body comprising elders of Turi-Bangash tribes, plays decisive role in all matters including elections in NA-37.
Like Shura-i-Negahban of Iran, AH has the same role in local politics.
Presently, it has recommended these three candidates.
However, Sajid Turi stands a good chance of being declared its final candidate.
Situation in NA-38 is different.
AH like body does not exist here.
Army operation against militants have caused mass exodus from the violence-stricken agency is fraught with fear.
A total of 29 candidates are in the field.
A tough contest is expected among Senator Rashid Ahmad Khan, former MNA Munir Khan Orakzai and Haji Saleem Khan.
Mr Orakzai, twice-elected MNA, has a JUI-F ticket.
Haji Saleem Khan, a blind candidate from JI, comes from known family.
His father, Haji Saleh Khan, was member of the lower house of parliament in 1970.
Senator Rashid from Para Chamkani tribe is contesting elections as independent candidate.
He can use the clout enjoyed by his clan due to its numerical strength.
Despite many odds and tough candidates, Munir Orakzai is likely to retain his seat in the National Assembly for third consecutive term due to JUI-F support and developmental work in the past nine years.