Cold weather and rain in Swat are blessings in disguise for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party (ANP). Targeted relentlessly by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, these two parties draw comfort from the fact that the vagaries of the weather will hamper other parties’ election campaigns.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is scheduled to take out a rally every day between Saidu Sharif and Mingora; the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) van playing party songs can be heard almost all over the twin cities; and there are the occasional Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) rallies.

While there is no unrest in Swat, the threats made by the TTP against the PPP and the ANP appear to be making them fall behind in their campaigns. The latter’s Muzaffarul Mulk, commonly known as Kaki Khan and former MNA from Swat-I, says, “The security issue is hampering my campaign but I am not falling behind.” Yet the threat level can be gauged from the fact that ANP and PPP candidates are not holding public meetings at the usual spots such as dead-end streets, preferring the lawns of large houses instead. By contrast, the PTI, JUI-F and JI gatherings are mostly held in open grounds with high visibility.

For the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the situation could swing either way. One of its major frontline runners is Bacha Lala, candidate for NA-29. An influential landlord closely related to the former ruling family of Swat, Bacha Lala has earned respect through welfare work. The veteran politician has been MPA six times and expects to succeed this time too.

A look at the constituency and the region provides the reason behind the gamble taken by Nawaz Sharif to take Amir Muqam within the folds of his party and give him the ticket for NA-30 (Swat-II). The PML-N has been so generous to Mr Muqam that he is also contesting for PK-80 and PK-82; his traditional constituency, NA-31 (Shangla), has been given to his brother, former district nazim Dr Ibadullah.

Mr Muqam is confident of success. “I have dual advantage,” he says. “There is a strong PML-N following here but, most importantly, the people love me.” What local residents say lends some credence to this claim, for they acknowledge that he opposed the TTP, survived several attempts on his life, and during the floods took a private helicopter to rescue stranded persons.

The region above Bahrain constitutes NA-30 and to the benefit of Mr Muqam, a very strong family from Matta led by Shujat Ali Khan, his son Jamal Nasir (former district nazim, Swat) and their relative Fateh Mohammad Khan have left the PTI to join the PML-N. The strongest candidate from Swat had been former MNA Alaudin of the PPP but he has suffered a recent blow in the defection of a large group, including his nephews, to the PTI.

There are 26 candidates in the run for NA-30, including 14 independents, and many are former members of various parties including the ANP, the JUI and the PTI. The situation provides ample space for Mr Muqam to play his cards effectively, while PK-80 constitutes his traditional stronghold. Yet he is not concentrating much on the latter and it is likely that the liberal, people-friendly JI candidate, Mohammad Amin, may make it through easily.

“Every party has a certain number of hardcore supporters but the key role is played by the personality of the individual,” observes Fiaz Khan, a local journalist. “Mr Amin was an MPA under the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal government and people remember him for the infrastructure development he did. Besides, he is among the very few individuals who raised a voice against the TTP.” Adnan Aurangzeb, grandson of the Wali of Swat, has also asked voters to extend their support to Mr Amin.

Nevertheless, the overall situation of the religious parties is not promising, mainly because of too many internal divisions. Almost all the religious groups have a candidate in the field, including the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazaryati. There is no visible sign of extremism in Swat and Malakand, though, and even Friday sermons are not delivered over loudspeakers and are in Arabic only — mainly due to the presence of intelligence officials in mosques during the prayers.

The former royal family of Swat has a unique standing among residents. As a princely state, the capital of Swat was Mingora, the current headquarters of Swat district; the main college of the city was established in 1932, its general hospital started functioning in 1940 and a madressah was founded in 1945.

The ruler of Swat brought in singers, musicians and dancers in the 1920s and settled them in Mingora. People belonging to these professions are amongst the most enthusiastic for democracy because of the treatment they suffered at the hands of the TTP. “We are musicians and singers,” says Haji Wadood, the leader of a troupe at Mohalla Baand. “There is nothing immoral or indecent about us, but they treated us like outlaws and even shot one of our girls, Shabana.”

Persecution reduced the entire community to beggary; many fled the district and were amongst the last batch of returnees. “I can sing, play music and dance too but when we went to Karachi I had to work as a housemaid,” says Seema, a childhood friend of Shabana. “It was like all my bones had been broken into pieces. Now, when I see people moving about freely and the army manning checkpoints, the importance of being alive resurfaces.”

But the army cannot stay here forever and it has a schedule to exit Swat and Malakand districts as soon as the new government takes over. However, the handover of Chitral, Upper Dir and Lower Dir to the civilian administration is not yet under consideration.

“It is not just the army that is responsible for our future,” says Begum Mussarat Ahmedzeb, daughter-in-law of the Wali of Swat. “We have a role to play too and I must say that politicians have failed to ensure the complete recovery of society.” She is trying to increase the role of women in the voting process; she has joined politics and is a PTI nominee for the seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. “We had a high percentage of female voters but in the recent past, some men have become afraid and insecure and they want all the women to stay away,” she explains.

“There is no military operation in Swat or Malakand but intelligence-led operations are carried out as and when required,” says the director general of the Inter Services Public Relations, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa. “They have helped maintain security in the area. The process of transfer to the civil administration, as envisioned initially, is moving steadily despite several challenges that include the civil administration’s capacity. Emphasis remains, however, on ensuring a sustainable and durable peace.”

The TTP has been ejected from Swat and Malakand and various measures for the de-radicalisation of society are being implemented. Currently, Swat is amongst the most peaceful and progressive districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but the real test for the next government will be maintaining peace while reducing the presence of the army and intelligence network.

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