Lowari tunnel to sway Chitral vote

Published July 23, 2018
Lowari tunnel was formally opened to traffic on July 20, 2017. The day was termed a great milestone in the history of Chitral as 50 per cent rise was witnessed in tourists visiting the valley as compared to previous year. — Dawn
Lowari tunnel was formally opened to traffic on July 20, 2017. The day was termed a great milestone in the history of Chitral as 50 per cent rise was witnessed in tourists visiting the valley as compared to previous year. — Dawn

Like previous elections, contribution to the Lowari tunnel’s construction is likely to be the deciding factor for poll winners in Chitral district this time around, too.

The local residents have always voted for the parties, which showed seriousness in executing the project planned in 1955 to ensure all-weather access to the mountainous northwestern region by road.

The first snowfall at Lowari Pass in November used to cut off Chitral from the rest of the country for five months long winter season to the misery of the people over acute shortage of kitchen items and restricted movement.

Thousands of people lost life trying to cross the hump of Lowari into Chitral.

In Sept 1975, the then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had executed work on Lowari tunnel in line with a survey conducted in 1955 and a design shelved by the successive governments.

The initiative helped his party, PPP, win both a National Assembly and two provincial assembly seats from the region in the next general elections (March 1977). Also, PPP-backed Shahzada Mohyuddin and Bhutto’s wife, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, were elected in the 1985 non-party and 1988 party-based general elections, respectively.

However, the locals switched to Nawaz Sharif’s party the 1990 elections over the failure of Benazir Bhutto-led PPP government to resume work on the tunnel project stalled since 1976.

No progress was seen on the initiative in the 1990s due to political instability in the country. However, things took a welcome turn after General Pervez Musharraf seized power by imposing martial law in 1999.

As the country’s president, he won the hearts of the local residents by executing tunnel work in August 2005 through the National Highway Authority. The 8.5 kilometers long passageway was finally in place in Jan 2009.

Heading a political party, All Pakistan Muslim League, Musharraf tried in vain to contest the 2013 general elections in Chitral’s NA-32 constituency (now NA-I after delimitations) as his nomination papers were rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan over litigation.

However, the local residents continued to like Musharraf due to tunnel work and clearly exhibited it by electing his covering candidate, Shahzada Iftikharuddin, by a thumping majority.

The APML nominee for the provincial assembly seat, PK-90, Haji Ghulam Mohammad, was also elected.

However, things have now tilted in favour of the PML-N, whose government had opened the tunnel last July after the completion of the remaining 80 per cent work.

Though the inauguration was scheduled for a later time, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had unveiled the tunnel plaque few days before his disqualification in the Panama Papers case by the Supreme Court.

This time around, Shahzada Iftikharuddin is the PML-N nominee for Chitral’s NA-I constituency. Having a strong electoral position on the first anniversary of the tunnel opening, he’ll be challenged by Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, which had won the 2002 polls in the area due to the presence of a large number of the supporters and sympathisers of its major members, including Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.

Besides the tunnel’s construction, the PML-N government had also to its credit the completion of 75 per cent work on the 108MW Golen Gol hydropower project in Chitral after a delay of 15 years, and allocation of 36MW electricity for Chitral, though in departure from the Wapda rules, to meet the district’s needs for the next 20 years.

The construction of Rs32 billion worth of Chitral-Garam Chashma Road, Shandur Road and Kalash Valley Road by the last federal government has also increased the chance of the PML-N nominees to win coming election in the district.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has fielded Abdul Latif in NA-I, who remained runner-up in the 2013 elections by polling 24,182 votes against 29,772 of Shahzada Iftikharuddin.

He is however struggling to canvass this time around due to the ‘indifference’ of the last PTI government to the misery of the local residents, especially after the 2015 flash floods washed away scores of suspension bridges and roads across the region, and destroyed their houses and sources of livelihood.

The people of upper Chitral are unhappy with the former ruling party over failure to reconstruct the 4.2MW Reshun hydropower station, which was washed away by the 2015 floods, and thus, leaving more than 20,000 people without electric supply for three years until they’re were connected to the federal government-funded Golen Gol power project.

The PTI is also under fire in upper Chitral for not keeping the Nov 2017 promise to upgrade Mastuj tehsil into a district.

Party chairman Imran Khan and then chief minister Pervez Khattak had made the promise during a public meeting in Chitral polo ground causing celebrations across the region. However, the jubilation proved short-lived as the district wasn’t notified by the PTI government until the completion of its term in May this year.

APML central president Dr Mohammad Amjad, who is also a candidate for NA-I seat due to the rejection of the papers of his party head, Musharraf, is seeking votes in the name of Musharraf’s services for the region, especially Lowari tunnel’s development.

Observers insist the PML-N’s electoral position in the region is very strong due to the release of massive funds for tunnel by its last government in the centre.

Salim Khan is the Pakistan Peoples Party nominee in NA-I.

He was elected MPA in 2008 and 2013 due to the massive support of the residents of his Lot Koh valley, which comprises three union councils. He was the only candidate from the valley.

Salim however chose to contest for the National Assembly seat this time around only after the PTI fielded Israruddin Saboor of Lot Koh valley for the provincial assembly seat, PK-I, thinking he (Salim Khan) will be the sole candidate in the NA constituency from the valley.

However, the stratagem failed as Shahzada Taimur Khusro, a disgruntled PPP leader and a resident of the vally, decided to contest election in NA-I as independent candidate.

Hailing from the royal family and retired from the highest rung of federal bureaucracy, Shahazada Taimur has the potential to get the support of most voters in Lot Koh valley to the disadvantage of Salim Khan.

Though Haji Eidul Hussain of the ANP, Saeedur Rehman of the Pakistan Rah-i-Haq Party and many independent candidates are also in the running, the MMA and PML-N are neck and neck.

The district’s only provincial assembly constituency has 16 candidates, including Israruddin Saboor of the PTI, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman of the MMA, Ghulam Mohammad of the PPP, Abdul Wali Khan of the PML-N, Sardar Ahmad of the ANP, Maulana Sirajuddin of the RHP, Sohrab Khan of the APML and many independents.

The MMA’s nominee is likely to face a tough contest from PTI’s, who has the benefit of being the only candidate from Lot Koh valley.

The PPP has fielded a strong candidate, who has represented the region in the provincial assembly twice.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2018

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