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UNLIKE in the plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where excessive heat forces people to seek respite in cool shade, the alpine hill station of Abbottabad is caught in election frenzy and there is the palpable feeling that elections are just around the corner.

The place has been teeming with political activity, as a short stroll across the town reveals, and the residents of this beautiful city are completely caught up in it.

Election offices have opened up, with a large number of people visiting, vehicles on the campaign trail adding to the chaos of the perennially jam-packed roads and posters, and flags and banners adorning all major roads. Abbottabad breathes politics.

The politics in Hazara, which has largely been a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) affair until recently, has been undergoing transformation. It began in 2013, when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) made inroads in the region, which elects 10 national and 17 provincial assembly members. In 2013, they grabbed at least four seats from Haripur and Abbottabad, while two independent winners also joined the party.

As of late, the PML-N has been in a flux. Squabbles resulting from delimitation, issuance of tickets and jockeying for power have been tearing at the seams of the largest political player in the area, but the PTI, too, is not immune to the wrath of disenchanted aspirants. Amid the chaos, one thing that stands out is that the showdown is primarily between the PML-N and PTI, with smaller groups and electables claiming their share of the electoral pie.

“Obviously, it is between us and the PTI,” says Malik Imran, the PML-N’s campaign coordinator at the party’s main campaign office.

2 is the number of national assembly seats in Abbottabad.

The atmosphere at the PML-N’s main election office is lively and the party’s political anthem “Vote ko Izaat Do” sung by Sher Zaman Takkar plays at full volume. However, the party’s workers are open about internal fissures within the party’s chapters here, which may impact its political stakes.

In Abbottabad, the party has been facing a great schism as their stalwart Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan is now daggers drawn with the party, and has, for the first time in more than three decades, stayed away from the political fray. Mehtab’s falling out with the party did not happen with a bang, but a whimper.

It began when a few disgruntled party workers launched the ‘PML-N Bachao Tehreek’, blaming Mehtab for not doing anything for the city despite his long stint in the corridors of power. Some observers blame Maryam Nawaz’s husband retired Captain Muhammad Safdar for Mehtab’s predicament. They say that both leaders were not on good terms and it was Safdar who pulled the rug from under Mehtab, with help from the party’s provincial president Amir Muqam.

The delimitation proved to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back, as a large population from his previous seat of power was included in NA-15 and Mehtab wanted the ticket for this seat. However, the party leadership gave the ticket to Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who is facing PTI’s Ali Asghar Khan.

Mehtab’s son Shahryar returned the ticket he was allotted for NA-16 and his cousin Sardar Fareed also decided to contest the PK-36 seat as an independent candidate with the ‘jeep’ as his symbol. Amid the crisis-like situation, the PML-N had to allot the NA-16 ticket to Malik Mahabat Awan.

“Mehtab’s current position is that he is within the four walls of his home,” Imran says, when asked about the former governor’s position.

PML-N workers say Mehtab’s fallout with them is, however, unlikely to hurt the party’s prospects in NA-16, where the Awan clan is in a majority. They admit it that it may harm the party’s chances in NA-15, where he has a large following.

Abbottabad has two national and four provincial assembly seats. PML-N’s Murtaza Javed Abbasi is facing PTI’s Ali Asghar Khan in NA-15. PTI dissident Sardar Muhammad Yaqub is also contesting the election on the jeep’s symbol from here. From NA-16, PTI’s Ali Khan Jadoon will face Malik Mahabat Awan. Another PTI dissident Shaukat Ali Tanoli has also joined the fray.

On the provincial seats, Sardar Fareed will contest against PML-N’s Nazeer Abbasi in PK-36; in PK-37, PML-N’s Sardar Aurangzeb Nalotha will face PTI’s Waqar Nabi. Sardar Idrees, a PTI lawmaker who was accused of selling his vote, is also contesting on the jeep’s sign. From PK-38, PTI’s former minister Qalandar Lodhi will face PML-N’s Muhammad Arshad, while on PK-39, the PML-N’s Inayat Khan Jadoon will contest the election against PTI’s former minister Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani. In PK-38 and PK39, two PTI dissidents are also contesting elections.

Haripur has one national and three provincial seats, and its Khanpur region is considered a stronghold of the Raja family, while the Tareens are influential in Haripur city. The population of Khalabat area largely comprises settlers. The large labour population of Hattar Industrial Estate is also of considerable importance.

In NA-17, PML-N’s Babar Nawaz Khan is up against PTI’s Omar Ayub Khan. His two first cousins Akbar Ayub Khan and Arshad Ayub are contesting elections from PK-40 and PK-41 in Haripur, respectively. Akbar Ayub is contesting against Qazi Mohammad Asad, a former minister in the ANP-PPP coalition, while Arshad Ayub will face Raja Faisal Zaman.

In PK-43, former KP chief minister Pir Sabir Shah’s nephew Qasim Shah is contesting elections and Faisal Zaman and Gohar Zaman, two independent candidates, are pitched against him, while the PTI has allotted its ticket to Saima Khalid.

Mansehra’s politics has been dominated by PML-N’s Sardar Muhammad Yousaf for nearly past three decades. Yousaf who is a Gujjar by caste has, over the years, entrenched his position. Swatis are said to be the largest segment of the population, while Syeds dominate Kaghan, Naran and Kaghan regions.

This time, Yousaf is up against one of his own acolytes, Saleh Muhammad Khan, a former KP assembly member from back in 2013. In the aftermath of his fall-out with Yousaf, Saleh decided to run against Yousaf’s son Sardar Shahjahan Yousaf from NA-16. The PTI is reportedly backing Saleh.

From NA-17, Mansehra-cum-Torghar, PTI Hazara’s region president Zar Gul Khan will contest against PML-N’s Captain Muhammad Safdar. However, his conviction in the Avenfield case has forced him out of the ring, leaving it open to his brother Muhammad Sajjad. Mufti Kifayatullah, candidate for Muttahida Qaumi Movement, is also considered to be a strong contender.

In PK-30 Mansehra, PML-N’s Mian Ziaur Rehman, independent candidate Syed Mazhar Ali Qasim Shah, with a jeep symbol, and PPP’s former minister Syed Ahmed Hassan Shah are set to contest the polls. The PTI is supporting Qasim. In PK-31, PTI’s Babar Saleem Swati will face PML-N’s former lawmaker Sardar Zahoor, while MMA’s Khurram Shahzad Khan is also said to be a good contender. In PK-32, MMA’s Ibrar Tanoli, who was among the Qaumi Watan Party’s ministers sacked on corruption allegations, is contesting against PTI’s Zahid Chanzeb and independent candidate former minister Habibur Rehman Tanoli. PPP’s former minister is Muhammad Shuja Khan is also a strong candidate.

In PK-33, Captain Safdar was up against PTI’s Nawabzada Farid Salahuddin and independent candidate Wajeeh Uz Zaman Khan, who has a long streak of winning. Sardar Mohammad Yousaf is trying his luck in PK-34, and is pitched against Sardar Waqarul Mulk and Shahzada Gastasip and MMA’s Shah Abdul Aziz.

There are two Hazaras — set apart from each other in many ways, including language, culture and outlook. The first Hazara comprises three developed areas including Haripur, Abbottabad and Mansehra, which are close to the urban centres of Punjab and KP, where political parties are more entrenched. However, parties, too, have largely relied on strong influence and the following of families and biradaris like Jadoons, Abbasis, Sardars, Awans, Ayubs, Rajas and Swatis in these areas.

In other districts falling in the upper reaches of the region, including Battagram, Kohistan and Torghar, politics is by and large a family affair and includes strong groups, comprising smaller factions, as political parties are largely weak or non-existent at all.

Battagram, with one national and two provincial seats, has for a long time sent a JUI-F member to the KP Assembly. However, local politics is dominated by the Tarand, Allai, Battagram and Thakot groups. In Allai, there are two groups — Tailoos and Bairi.

Of late, the Tarands have joined the PTI, raising the party’s fortunes and the Bairi group has also joined hands with the Tarands. In NA-12, the Bairi and Tarand groups fielded a joint candidate Mohammad Nawaz Khan on a PTI ticket to contest against MMA’s Mohammad Yousaf. In PK-28, the Bairi group’s candidate Zubair Khan is also contesting on a PTI ticket against JUI-F’s three-time lawmaker and Tailoos group leader Shah Hussain Khan Allai. The Thakot group is also backing Hussain. In PK-29, PTI’s Taj Mohammad Tarand will contest the Battagram group’s uncle-nephew duo of Mohammad Fayyaz Khan who is contesting on an MMA ticket and PML-N’s Wali Muhammad Khan. Their family quarrel is likely to damage their chances of winning.

Kohistan, with a national and three provincial seats, virtually has no political parties present on the ground, while the Pattan Qaumi Ittehad and the Kandia Qaumi Ittehad, two dominant groups of influentials, are calling the shots in local politics.

On the Torghar seat, PTI’s Zareen Gul, who was previously a JUI-F lawmaker in the KP Assembly, is set to contest against ANP’s Liaq Muhammad Khan. Zareen Gul is the brother of PTI Hazara chief Zar Gul Khan.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018