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Niwani-Dhandla strife goes on in Bhakkar: Second phase of election

August 20, 2005

BHAKKAR, Aug 19: The two main rival groups in the district— ruling PML-backed Niwani Awami Mahaz and PML-N affiliated Dhandla’s Awami Khidmat Mahaz— have been bagging a major chunk of votes, regardless of the fact whether elections, general or local, are held involving parties or without them.

The district’s four tehsils, Bhakkar, Kallur Kot, Darya Khan and Mankera spread over 8,153 Square- Kilometres with a population of 1,051,000.

There was a time when the Pakistan Peoples Party had a mass following in the district, but after the assassination of Jharna, a leading activist of PPP’s alleged militant wing Al-Zulfikar, and partly because of the apathy of party’s high command, the people got disappointed and preferred to vote for Niwanis or Dhandlas.

Bhakkar tehsil has 17 union councils out of the total 42 in the district. Both the Niwani and Dhandla groups have strong presence in the tehsil. The Niwanis are Baloch by caste, who made their debut in the politics jointly with the Dhandlas in 1970s, when the candidates belonging to the both groups contested the general elections on the Convention Muslim League tickets. Ghulam Hassan Dhandla was elected as MNA and Capt Ahmed Nawaz Khan (retired) an MPA.

As the elections were swept by the PPP, these were the only two seats won by the CML in the defunct Sargodha division. However, both parliamentarians joined the PPP and Capt Khan was elevated as provincial transport minister.

The groups’ alliance ended in the party-less polls of 1985 and they became political rivals when Aman Ullah Khan Shahani, the father of Naeem Ullah Khan Shahani now Punjab sports minister, defeated Rasheed Akbar Khan Niawani. But in 1988, Niwani group compensated for this humiliation when Aman Ullah Shahani was defeated by Rasheed Niwani with a convincing lead of 13,000 votes. In 1990’s general elections, once again Rasheed Niwani lost the National Assembly seat to Zafar Ullah Khan Dhandla.

The groups’ rivalry continued till 2002 by-election, when Rasheed Akbar Khan defeated DR Muhammad Afzal Dhandla, a cousin of Zafar Ullah khan Dhandla, who was earlier defeated by PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who contested from Bhakkar in 2002 general elections.

As biradri alliances keep changing according to political expediencies of every election, the Niwanis and Shahanis again entered into an alliance during the last local elections and swept the polls. Hamid Akbar Niwani, brother of Punjab Prisons Minister Saeed Akbar Khan Niwani, was elected district nazim, while Aleem Ullah Shahani was elected as Bhakkar tehsil nazim.

However, this marriage of convenience ended soon as the two nazims developed differences and the groups they represented parted their ways, levelling allegations of corruption against each other.

Niwani group chief Asghar Khan Niwani, a former deputy-inspector general of police, accused the Shahani’s of corruption. He also demanded an anti-corruption probe against Aleem Ullah Shahani. Niwanis also alleged that Naeem Ullah Shahani was made hostage in Miran Shah tribal area, when he went there to strike a shabby deal and the government had to pay Rs20 million as ransom to get its minister released.

After leaving the alliance with Niwani group, Shahanis went into the folds of their old rivals, Dhandla group, associated with PML-N, but this act of Shahanis annoyed the ruling PML as well as the electorate.

The Shahanis also levelled corruption charges against Niwanis, alleging that Hamid Akbar Niwani had plundered at least Rs110 million from the government funds. However, the former district nazim refuted the allegations.

Although the MMA, locally led by Maulana Abdullah, is not seen active in the district, but it seems to be inclined towards Awami Khidmat Mahaz.

The people of the district, particularly those living in rural area, are mostly religious minded and they may go for MMA, but biradarism will play a main role in the local elections. However, the Jamaat Islami is very active against Rafiq Ahmed Khan who is contesting for Bhakkar city nazim slot for the second term from the platform of Awami Khidmat Mahaz.

The PPP under the leadership of Malik Ghulam Sarwar Advocate is mostly depending upon press statements, showing a very thin physical activity, perhaps because of some settlement with the Awami Khidmat Mahaz.

Independent observers predict that as the both groups enjoy a considerable support in the tehsil, a neck-and-neck competition was expected on eight UC seats there, while Niwani Awami Mahaz seems to be in a better position in three UCs. It is also being said that if elections would have held on party basis, the PML-N would have performed better in the rural areas where it had considerable following.

Niwani group claims to have the approval of the ruling party for repeating Hamid Akbar Niwani for district nazim slot, while Zafar Ullah Dhandla and his brother Zia Ullah Dhandla will be the candidates for tehsil and district nazim slots. However, analysts view that Niwani Awami Mahaz will get lead in Bhakkar tehsil.

In Mankera tehsil there are seven union councils, where Cheenas, Bhidwals and Magsis are influential and they all are reportedly supporting Niwani Awami Mahaz. In Chak No 67-ML, there are various families who are called settlers. They seem to be divided and there will be interesting contest in this union council. Awami Khidmat Mahaz is striving hard to clinch this seat.

Darya Khan tehsil comprises eight union councils, where Niwani Khidmat group is facing opposition from Dhandla Awami Khidmat group, but Niwanis have an edge over as they are being supported by MPA Murid Hussain Shah Qureshi. The Niwanis also enjoy the backing of Jhamat, Joyia and Kuhawar families, which are also well-known in the tehsil. However, in some union councils, including Angra Dagger, Darya Khan Town and Panjgrain, tough fight is expected between the two groups.

Kallur Kot tehsil has 10 Union Councils and Niwani Awami Mahaz has entered into an alliance with Khanan Khel family who has considerable influence there, besides Jandawala, Noon and Sagu biradaris. Dhandla group has formed alliance with Masti Khel of Nawan Janda wlaa, headed by Sana Ullah Khan Masti Khel.

In this crucial tehsil, both groups are considered on a par, but the situation is changing day by day, in which small biradris could become decisive.

In Nawan Janda Wala, a big town of Kallur Kot tehsil, Masti Khel and Khanan Khel groups have been traditional rivals in every election, as Sana Ullah Masti Khel was elected MNA in the last general elections, whereas prior to that Zafar Ullah Khan Khanan Khel was elected as MNA from that area. The both groups also have their influence in the rural areas of the tehsil. In urban area of tehsil, the local and Muhajir factors will decide the fate of the candidates, whereas in the suburbs of Kallur Kot, Sagu and Noon biradaris have a vital role.

In what may be called an unnatural arrangement, PML-Q backed Shahanis and the PML-N held a joint public meeting in Bhakkar which was also attended by MMA district president Safi Ullah Khan to oppose Niwani Mahaz. The alliance, if it works, may create problems for the Niwanis.