LANDI KOTAL, May 9: With electioneering coming to a halt at midnight on Thursday, a close contest is expected between former MNA Noorul Haq Qadri and his former ally and a business tycoon Haji Shahji Gul.
Most voters and analysts in NA-45 constituency of Jamrud and Landi Kotal believe that the contest is more between wealth and spiritual reverence.
Mr Gul has so far spent millions of rupees on his election campaign and employed every tactic to woo the voters, while Mr Qadri is heavily relying on support of his spiritual followers along with favours he showered on his supporters during his two and a half years stint as federal minister and also the execution of some development works in Jamrud and Landi Kotal.
Mr Gul's family, commonly known as Al-Haj group in the area, had supported Mr Qadri in all the three previous elections in Khyber Agency with the latter winning the last two elections and that too with ‘cash and kind’ support by Al-Haj group. The group has major shares in contracts for supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan and also a sprawling real estate business both in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other major cities of the country.
The Al-Haj group announced to challenge Mr Qadri in the May 11 election after they were denied support in the last Senate election and instead Mr Qdri nominated his brother Abdul Malik.
They said that they were promised a seat in the Senate soon after 2008 elections. Mr Qadri denied having struck any such deal.
Mr Gul, however, never touched upon the issue of Senate seat during his election campaign and instead accused Mr Qadri of his failure to carry out any significant development schemes and also alleged that he and his followers pocketed huge development funds during last five years.
Also in the run for NA-45 is Pakistan Tehrik Insaf candidate Khan Shed, a close relative of Mr Gul and another business tycoon. Though a late entrant to the electoral contest, it is believed that Mr Shed could spring a surprise.
PTI Khyber Agency chapter claims to have 16,000 of their members as registered voters in both constituencies of Khyber Agency.
Like Mr Gul, Mr Shed also belong to the Kukikhel tribe of Jamrud and it is generally believed by most people in Jamrud that a major chunk of Kukikhel voters would also go to Mr Shed. Mr Qadri has little following in the Kukikhel tribe, but has a significant presence in Shinwari, Zakhakhel and Malagori tribes.
The recent visit by Taj Mohammad, younger brother of Mr Gul to Bazaar Zakhakhel area caused some ripples in Mr Qadri's camp. The area has some 17,000 registered voters and is controlled by Zakhakhel-dominated Tawheedul Islam group who have reportedly assured support to Mr Gul on the condition that he would solve their problems after winning elections.
Mr Haq was not allowed to campaign in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area due to Tawheedul Islam opposition to his religious beliefs with the former belonging to Barelivi school of thought and the latter to Deobandi.
Jamaat-i-Islami candidate Zar Noor Afridi and Awami National party candidate Malik Darya Khan Zakhakhel have pockets of support in Shalman, Shinwari and Zakhakhel tribes, but are apparently lagging behind in Jamrud tehsil.
In Bara, no clear two or even three frontline contestants could be identified for the NA-46 seat. Though it is generally believed that former MNA Hamidullah Jan enjoy an edge over his opponents, but another former MNA Mohammad Shah, former senator Nasir Khan, PTI candidate Iqbal Afridi and JI candidate Shah Faisal also have strong presence in their respective areas of influence.
Most importantly, an estimated 75,000 families were residing outside Bara and 125,000 residing at Jalozai. It is believed that a candidate securing more votes at Jalozai could be winner as a very thin turnout is expected for the rest of the IDPs as almost all are now directed to poll their votes at polling stations to be established at Shah Kas in Jamrud.