ANP candidate Naheed Rehman Afridi. — Dawn
ANP candidate Naheed Rehman Afridi. — Dawn

LANDI KOTAL: Although Naheed Rehman Afridi is a longtime political and social worker and has seen many an ups and downs in her life, yet contesting elections on a general seat from Khyber tribal district on the ticket of Awami National Party is an experience of a lifetime for her.

She is not a novice to politics as her father, grandfather and other close relatives had a longtime political attachment with ANP and Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek.

“Politics was in my blood and it was destined for me to venture into this field but I had not realised this path could be so treacherous,” she said of her month-long experience of running her election campaign in Jamrud and Bara from where she is contesting elections for a provincial assembly seat.

Naheed Rehman says it is her constitutional right to contest election and run campaign

Ms Afridi had worked with different non-governmental organisations prior to formally joining ANP. She served the party as vice president for the erstwhile Fata in 2013.

“I had toured different tribal regions and participated in meetings alongside party leaders, mostly males, but frankly speaking I had no idea or experience of having any in depth knowledge of the issues confronted by the general masses, especially tribal women,” she said.

Ms Afridi is pitted against some very strong independent candidates and also those of different political parties in her quest for contesting elections from PK-106.

“From day one, I received a harsh and nasty reception at the social media where majority lambasted my party for its failure to find out a male candidate from the constituency,” she told Dawn while recalling her first days of election campaign.

She said that there was a continuous smear campaign against her and also against her party as her opponents, who had little or no political grooming, still considered women as second grade citizens and not fit for holding a public office.

She said that she faced a lot of obstacles in her campaign from day one and was even stopped by some ‘conservatives’ from visiting a seminary for girls in Jamrud while her group photo with party workers and leaders at the historic Bab-i-Khyber also attracted the wrath of the tribal elders, who claimed to be the custodians of the so-called traditions where women were barred from going out to such public places.

Ms Naheed said that her opponents, mostly wealthy independent candidates, were objecting to her door-to-door campaign while approaching local women voters and also to hujras where she wanted to convey her massage to the men.

“But I have not lost my hope as it is my constitutional right to contest election and run my campaign. I would try to reach out the women voters as they were intentionally ignored in all the previous elections, mostly held for National Assembly,” she said with a commitment.

However, Ms Naheed said that she found solace and personal satisfaction whenever and wherever she met female voters as they felt comfortable in sharing their grievances with her. “Our women are facing problems in education, health, employment and most painfully shortage of water, which were never redressed despite the fact that male candidates had been winning elections with the help of women voters,” she said. She added that tribal women were never given a chance to elect a candidate of their choice.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019