PESHAWAR: A deadly threat from terrorists has elicited a cautious response from candidates of liberal political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, showing firm resolve to conduct election campaign come what may.
The candidates of Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians, and Qaumi Watan Party have adopted personalised security plans and brought in an element of unpredictability in their electioneering to secure ground despite the potential threat.
Facing a common enemy, their candidates are holding ‘unannounced’ corner meetings at the village level, instead of holding large public meetings or carrying out processions, in their pursuit to maintain their public appeal.
Awami National Party has issued general instructions to its candidates for their individual electioneering, asking them to limit their campaign to the bare minimum level in the run-up to the elections day.
The ANP leadership has directed the party candidates to restrict their electioneering to corner meetings, door-to-door campaigns, and carry security guards for personal protection during their mass contact campaigns.
“We have been asked (by the party) to accompany, at least, eight gunmen in two vehicles during our movement, including four guards in each vehicle,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, senior ANP leader, told Dawn.
ANP candidates, he added, would not hold electoral processions and public gatherings in the open, avoiding exposure in view of terrorist threats.
As a result, the party candidates have been holding corner meetings in Hujras (male guesthouse) at village level in their constituencies, whereas, the responsibility to conduct door to door mass contact campaigns has been assigned to party workers.
Besides, the party has asked its candidates to restrict their mobility, keep their movement schedule secret, and rely on the traditional door-to-door campaign option to the maximum.
“We finished the door-to-door campaign in my village last Thursday and its scope is being extended to other villages in the constituency,” said Mr Iftikhar, the ex-minister information in the last ANP-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.
ANP is not the only political party that has evolved SOPs for the electioneering in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Leaders of some other political parties have also adopted precautionary measures for personal security during their respective election campaign in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Sikandar Khan Sherpao, son of former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, when contacted, said that they arrived at their corner meetings unannounced, keeping their schedule secret.
“We inform the local administration in advance about our every programme and keep our schedule unpredictable,” said the younger Sherpao, who was a member of the last Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. He is contesting again from his native provincial assembly constituency in Charsadda district.
Mr Sikandar said that as part of their precautionary measures they (he and Aftab Sherpao) did not go together to attend any election related activity. “Only one of us goes to attend a campaign event,” said Mr Sikandar, adding “similarly, we do not announce in advance who (among us) would be present on the occasion.”
“You can hardly stop a suicide bomber from executing his plans once he is there, you can, however, take some measures to avoid him,” said the younger Sherpao, a candidate of Qaumi Watan Party for PK-21.
He said he carried one personal security guard while the former interior minister had been provided official security cover by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Like him, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians’ Rahimdad Khan, who was a senior minister in the last provincial government, when contacted, said that he was maintaining a low profile. His son is contesting from their native provincial assembly constituency this time round.
“He (his son) accompanies only one personal guard during the campaign, we can’t avoid meeting people being public figures,” said Mr Rahimdad, a former provincial president of PPP.
His fellow party leader Ayub Shah, from Peshawar, said the PPPP candidates from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had employed personal security guards in their individual capacity.
“Security of the contestants is one big issue in this campaign,” said Mr Shah.
ANP’s Mian Iftikhar shared his thoughts. “Employing personal security guards is one’s personal concern as the caretaker government has turned a blind eye to our candidates’ security,” said Mr. Iftikhar.
The ANP leadership and supporters, he added, were under attack from militants because of their ‘open stand’ against terrorism. “They (the caretaker government) are either inexperienced in governance or have intentionally ignored our security,” said Mr. Iftikhar.
He said the provincial civil administration withdrew official security guards from him and other members of the last provincial cabinet the next day after the government completed its term.
“The new administration withdrew guards from our party’s provincial president (Afrasayab Khattak) and Bacha Khan Markaz (ANP’s headquarter) instantly after our government’s tenure ended,” said Mr Iftikhar.