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This provincial constituency has attracted national leaders too. Amongst them was Benazir Bhutto, who contested and lost against veteran ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. He has won four times from his native city and lost just once, that too when Aftab Khan Sherpao was in the PPP. Imran Khan of the PTI is challenging Bilour in the latter’s political bastion, relying on young urban voters. Imran came here to inaugurate his election office but did not address a rally. But then Bilour, too, has been constrained by threats and survived a suicide bombing on the campaign trail. It constitutes a tough contest.

Jhagra: chasing rainbows The self-declared billionaire, Noor Alam Khan of the PPP, is fighting to retain his seat. Pitted against him is JUI-F Haji Ghulam Ali, a real estate tycoon and industrialist whose association with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has made him extremely influential within the party. But also running for yet another time is PML-N secretary general Iqbal Zaffar Jhagra. If public perception is anything to go by, Jhagra may find success elusive — again. The challenge to Noor Alam Khan is more likely to come from a new entrant, the PTI’s Sajid Nawaz Khan.

Between ballot and bullet ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan is fighting to retain his seat. Facing threats from militants, though, he has not visited his constituency much and is relying on party organisation to lobby for votes in a constituency that is considered an ANP stronghold (though the MMA won in 2002). But the incumbency factor, allegations of corruption against his Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, disaffection and the militants’ threats may make things difficult. Facing him is the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Mohammad Arshad Khan. His emergence makes things interesting since Arshad Khan is said to wield considerable personal influence in the area.

The Hoti clan Khwaja Mohammad Khan Hoti won this seat on an ANP ticket, had a brief sojourn with the PTI and is now a PML-N candidate on his native constituency. But challenging him is former chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. The ANP candidate has survived an attempt on his life and is all but restricted to his sprawling house. Khwaja Hoti has launched a barrage of corruption charges against his young rival but Ameer Hoti is hardly green either. He pumped billions into Mardan’s development. Will this factor change the mind of a constituency that is reputed to be politically fickle?

The Sardars and the Jadoons Former chief minister and senior PML-N leader Sardar Mahtab Ahmed Khan is in a close race with the PTI’s Dr Azhar Jadoon to retain his seat. It’s going to be a formidable contest given that one of Mahtab’s political foes, Amanullah Jadoon, has announced support for Dr Azhar. But this has also prompted the Sardars of Abbottabad to unite against the Jadoon alliance. Giving a further shot in the arm to Sardar Mahtab was Nawaz Sharif’s massive public meeting in Abbottabad last week. Still, by all accounts, this constituency is likely to see an interesting electoral fight.

Ayub dynasty’s bid The former finance minister of the Shaukat Aziz era, Omar Ayub Khan, is fighting as the PML-N candidate against the PTI’s Raja Amir Zaman; the contest could be close and extremely interesting. The son of former foreign minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, he joined the PML-N after some time in the wilderness and then with the PML-Likeminded faction. Against him are Raja Amir Zaman, former Haripur nazim and the runner-up in 2008 against the then PML-N and now PPP Sardar Mushtaq.

Gambling on three JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is contesting from three constituencies. In Dera Ismail Khan, he is pitted against a wealthy industrialist, the PPP’s Senator Waqar Khan. Then, he is facing a more daunting challenge from a dynamic PTI candidate in NA-25, Dawar Khan Kundi, the son of a former provincial minister. Dawar was in the PPP but switched to clinch the PTI ticket. He was a runner-up in 2008. On NA-27, the maulana faces yet another tough challenger, Salim Saifullah Khan, who is contesting on a PML-N ticket in the Saifullah stronghold.