Political expediency is the name of the game in Haripur, the hilly eastern district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While political activity is hectic, politicians frequently change sides. In this theatre, electoral candidates tend to be more important than the parties. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) is an addition to the time-tested choices but nevertheless the upcoming elections generally present the old picture: familiar faces with changed political platforms.

Haripur’s electoral battles have always been fought with biradri (clan) considerations; dharra bandi (groupings) hold sway. When it comes to Haripur’s significance to the national political scene, one can’t help but refer to the country’s first military dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. A member of the politically significant Tareen clan of Haripur, Gen Ayub’s heirs are known for not shying away from changing loyalties in their pursuit for a prolonged stay in the corridors of power.

This time, Haripur’s political scene is also likely to echo with references to another infamous character: Osama bin Laden, once the most wanted man in the world, is credibly reported to have stayed at a Haripur neighbourhood in a rented house before moving to his last abode in Abbottabad where he was killed by US forces on May 2, 2011.

The Jamaat-i-Islami’s (JI) Ghulam Nabi, contesting for Haripur’s only National Assembly seat (NA-19), is the man who, back then, organised and led Bin Laden’s funeral prayers in absentia in Peshawar. Though not a winning candidate, Mr Nabi has some proven political base in Haripur. He got over 30,500 votes in the 2002 election, contesting for NA-19 as a candidate for the religious-party alliance of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

The man to watch this coming election is Sardar Mohammed Mushtaq Khan, who has the potential to give the Pakistan Peoples Party its first win on Haripur’s National Assembly seat. Elected from this constituency on a PML-N ticket in 2008, Mr Khan recently switched over to the PPP after developing differences with Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N chief embraced his old loyalist-turned-tormentor Gohar Ayub Khan to regain his party’s grip over Haripur.

Mr Khan, who belongs to the area’s biggest Gujjar clan, was so annoyed by Mr Sharif’s decision that he took the hand extended to him by the PPP supremo, President Asif Ali Zardari. However, his marriage of convenience has not been without issues. His rival on NA-19 is Gohar Ayub’s son Umer Ayub Khan, who was a minister in the Musharraf government. The younger Ayub is the son-in-law of the president of the PPP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter, Anwer Saifullah. Hence, Mr Mushtaq is worried that his challenger might be dearer to his party’s provincial chief.

Nevertheless, based on his previous electoral wins and the mammoth vote bank of his ancestral Gujjar clan, Mr Khan is confident about his success on NA-19. He bagged 98,670 votes in 2008 against Umer Ayub who, as a PML-Q candidate, got 50,631 votes. Their rival Raja Aamir Zaman, scion of another powerful political family and the strong Ghakkar clan, received 71,254 votes. For the coming elections, Mr Zaman has got a PTI ticket; last time, he contested as an independent candidate.

Looking at the candidates vying for Haripur’s four provincial assembly seats (PK-49 to PK-52), the electoral scene requires voters to pay some real attention.

As a sample: Umer Ayub is the PML-N candidate for NA-19 and his first-cousin, Yousuf Ayub, is the PTI’s candidate on PK-50 (Haripur-II). In 2002, Yousuf contested on a PML-N ticket for the same seat. This year, he will also face the PML-N’s Qazi Asad, who returned to the provincial assembly in the previous two elections: first on a PML-Q ticket in 2002 and then as an independent candidate in 2008, following which he joined the Awami National Party (that he left recently after remaining a minister these past five years).

Similarly, Raja Aamir Zaman is contesting for the NA seat on a PTI ticket while his brother, Raja Faisal Zaman, is contesting PK-49 as a PML-N candidate against the PTI’s Akhter Zaman. The PTI’s Zaman opponents include another big name, Raja Ejaz, the brother-in-law of Yousuf Ayub, who is the PTI’s candidate for PK-50.

Another important name is the PML-N’s provincial president, Pir Sabir Shah, vying to retain his PK-52 seat against Faisal Zaman, an independent candidate.

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