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The electoral alliance between pro and anti Taliban political forces against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf for the August 22 by-elections has made the contest quite interesting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially in NA-1 Peshawar.

PTI candidate Gul Badshah is contesting against Awami National Party stalwart Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour for National Assembly seat NA-1. Religious, liberal, secular and right wing parties like Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have entered into seat adjustment to outclass the PTI candidate in Peshawar.

Like Peshawar, ANP has entered into seat adjustment with JUI-F in Swabi, Mardan and other areas where by-polls would take place. Ideologically, JUI-F is close to the Taliban. On the contrary, ANP and PPP both consider themselves secular and liberal but they have joined hands with JUI-F to defeat PTI, which also has a soft corner for the Taliban.

Leaders of JUI-F, a conservative religious force, are running campaign for Ghulam Bilour, the candidate of a secular party. They are organising joint corner meetings and press conferences asking their workers to vote for ANP candidate.

Politics has now become a family business. Political parties have divorced their ideologies and now they have only one agenda: How to grab power? In general elections, JUI-F was against ANP and PTI. The PPP, PML-N and other political parties had also adopted the same strategy. But realpolitik made foes of the past friends of the day.

JUI-F provincial secretary information Abdul Jalil Jan said that PTI had stolen mandate of JUI-F and ANP in general elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and came into power through ‘bogus mandate’.

ANP president Asfandyar Wali had thanked Maulana Fazlur Rehman for his party’s sincere efforts and campaign in favour of Ghulam Bilour in NA-1, according to Jalil Jan.

“Common objective of seat adjustment between religious and liberal parties is to hand down defeat on Imran Khan,” he said. He said that ANP could not form government or form policy by winning by-polls that was why JUI-F was supporting its candidates in Peshawar and other constituencies while ANP was also reciprocating.

In the general elections, Jalil Jan, said JUI-F was attacking ANP because of its policies. But now the party was no more in power therefore, he said, JUI-F made alliance with ANP and it would not offend the Taliban.

After entering into seat adjustment, JUI-F leaders have organised corner meetings and launched door-to-door campaign for Ghulam Bilour at the union council level.

ANP president Asfandyar Wali and JUI central vice president Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan are likely to address a joint public meeting at Nishter Hall, Peshawar on Monday. The JUI leaders addressed election rally of ANP candidate for NA-5 on Sunday while ANP leaders are running campaign for JUI candidate in Swabi.

PTI chairman Imran Khan, who vacated NA-1, had bagged record 90,500 votes against Ghulam Bilour, who got 24,488 votes in the general elections. PPP candidate Mohammad Zulfiqar Afghani had obtained 7,121 votes and JI candidate Shabir Ahmad Khan got 7,051 votes. This shocking defeat had disheartened elderly Bilour and initially he was reluctant to contest the by-elections. He never tasted such a stunning defeat in his political career and was able to win the same seat four times. Finally party leaders consoled him to contest the by-polls. ANP and JUI F have serious reservations about the votes polled for Imran Khan in NA-1 and alleged that results had been engineered. ANP provincial secretary information Malik Mustafa is optimistic that Ghulam Bilour would strike back in the by-polls and regain his seat.

“We accept that Imran Khan was a popular candidate, but getting over 90,000 votes in NA-1 is impossible,” he said, adding that general estimate was that he (Imran) would not get more than 60,000 votes. He alleged that returning officers had polled bogus votes for Imran and they themselves stamped ballet papers.

Malik Mustafa said that the PTI position was weak in the by-elections as compared to the general elections, as the party popularity graph had dropped in the province because of its stance on terrorism, drone strikes and upward trend in acts of terrorism.

He said that PTI had made a commitment to eliminate corruption, deliver justice, restore peace and stop drone strikes in tribal areas.

“Not a single commitment has been fulfilled so far and situation has further deteriorated since the PTI has formed a coalition government in the province,” said Malik Mustafa.

It is a fact that the PTI image has eroded since it has formed government in the province. The party workers and well wishers are disappointed. Another setback for PTI is that a controversial person Gul Badshah has been allotted a ticket from NA-1 and Imran’s old guard Samad Mursaleen has been ignored. He has revolted against the party and is contesting election as independent candidate.

Despite certain drawbacks and weaknesses of the PTI, the daunting task for ANP and its allies is how to bring voters to the polling stations on August 22 to cope with the big margin between the PTI and ANP’s votes in general elections.