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Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) contender in NA-117 Ahsan Iqbal. — File Photo

NAROWAL: It’s 10pm in this small town near the border with India and Kashmir and Ahsan Iqbal is standing on a road in front of a poor neighbourhood. A horse is dancing to the beat of a dhol as Iqbal looks on surrounded by a few dozen cheering supporters.

After a few minutes, with the horse leading the way, Iqbal makes his way into a pitch-dark lane towards a makeshift stage with a few dozen chairs placed in front of it. As Iqbal takes his seat on the stage, a handful of five rupee notes are thrown in the air and children scramble to grab them.

Of such ‘corner meetings’ will be built Iqbal’s election campaign and the thrice-elected PML-N MNA is the prohibitive favourite in this largely rural constituency, NA-117.

“The last time (in 2008) the two main complaints against Ahsan Iqbal were that he doesn’t stay in touch with his constituency and there had been little development,” explained Iqbal Ali Javed, a local journalist. “Over the last five years, he’s fixed that to a great extent and the people’s complaints have gone down a great deal.”

Today, Ahsan Iqbal’s fingerprints are visible all over the constituency: the town stands transformed by massive road projects while schools have been upgraded across the rural areas. Sui gas has finally made its way to the district, addressing a major political grouse over the decades.

For all his success, though, Iqbal is already in full campaign mode and appears to be looking over his shoulder. The threat, to the extent there is one, quickly becomes apparent at the corner meeting.

“Imran Khan wasn’t able to manage his own house, how will he look after politics?” thundered a heavily bearded, black-turbaned man on the stage, warming up the 100-strong crowd for Iqbal. “Imran Khan found his Jewish wife more appropriate to raise his own children.”

PTI rival At his home later, Iqbal explained the key to winning an election: “It’s like a three-digit lock on a briefcase. One digit is the party, the other is the candidate’s personal vote bank and the third is the grouping and dharra. Only when the three are aligned does the briefcase open.”

He added, “Development can make you lose an election, if you haven’t done any, but on its own it’s not enough to ensure victory.”

If he is to win a fourth term on May 11, Iqbal will likely have to beat Abrarul Haq, the presumptive PTI candidate. While Haq has now begun his campaign and banners advertising his candidacy dot the constituency, the PTI has not officially declared him as their candidate yet. Haq also faces a strong rival within the PTI, Javed Safdar Kahlon, a former district nazim who got his wife elected as a PML-Q MNA in 2002 by defeating Ahsan Iqbal.

As a wealthy Jat in a constituency where Jats are the largest, though a generally poor, biradiri, Haq is relying on two factors to help him win votes: one, as a philanthropist who set up the Sughra Shafi Medical Complex, named after Haq’s late mother; and two, as a member of a family that has been active in constituency politics. Haq, himself new to politics, also has the name-recognition factor: his successful career as a pop singer has made him a household name.

Sahir Ali Shah, a local businessman, explained the appeal of the PTI and Haq’s vote-getting potential: “Tabdeeli (change) is not about roads and gas connections. People are sick of the system: there is no justice, there is corruption, there is unemployment. That’s what they want to change.

“But Abrar doesn’t live here and hasn’t helped anyone. He will get votes from his native area because he is a chaudhry and people are beholden to him.”

Rural campaign

“In 1993, when I first won, if one chaudhry in a UC (union council) said yes to voting for me, then I could sit back and forget about it. All the votes would be mine,” Ahsan Iqbal said, explaining the changing nature of rural politics. “Now, no one person, not even two, three or five people sometimes, can deliver a UC. Everyone wants direct access to their representative. There is awareness.”

And with awareness comes an arduous campaign in this sprawling constituency of 600 villages, home to many subsistence farmers and a large number of rural labourers. Abrarul Haq, counter-intuitively for a PTI candidate but because of his rural family base, is desperately playing catch up in NA-117 by rushing from village to village in the company of his political relatives.

In Mulukpur, seated on a charpai under a tree in the garden of one the village’s larger homes, Haq met a group of around 50 potential voters. “Our campaign has started very late because there was a problem with tickets. But that’s because in PTI everything is done by merit, not nepotism,” Haq said.“Go to your own areas, speak to people, phone them, there’s very little time left,” Haq exhorted the small gathering. “Please also don’t forget that there’s a large number of women voters here. We need the women to vote and soon my wife and the women of my family will come here to campaign,” he added.

While PTI and Haq are expected to put up a fight, Irfan Ali Javed, the local journalist, explained the reason why Ahsan Iqbal is still the candidate to beat: “Abrar will win votes because of the Jat-ism slogan. But he hasn’t given Ahsan much to worry about yet because he’s new. A better (PTI) candidate would have been Khalon (the former district nazim). If they join up, then they can give Ahsan a tough time.”

Whether Kahlon, who has lobbied hard for the PTI ticket in NA-117 but may end up as a provincial assembly candidate, will rally behind Haq is an open question, even for Haq.

Otherwise, too, the pop star is realistic about his chances: “75 per cent is with Ahsan and PML-N. 25 per cent is with us at the moment. Let’s see, the weeks ahead could change things,” Haq said before hurrying off to his next village meeting.

Wary of the unpredictable nature of politics, Ahsan Iqbal is not taking anything for granted either. At his late-evening corner meeting, Iqbal hammered away at the experience factor in his stump speech:

“Imran Khan has no experience. At the town, district, provincial or central level he has no experience whatsoever. How can he lead when he has no experience? Only PML-N has both the passion and the experience to deliver.”

“Look around you. In five years, we haven’t made Narowal into Paris yet but it is already half a Paris,” he said to cheers.

Comments (32) Closed

Immad Apr 17, 2013 07:36am
Such a deceptive speech at the end by Mr Iqbal is very disappointing. I considered him one of the few sensible enough and honest person in PML N.
faaziz Apr 17, 2013 07:43am
"a handful of five rupee notes are thrown in the air and children scramble to grab them." Are they still printing 5 rupee notes? I didn't know that.
Amjad Apr 17, 2013 07:57am
the good part of this story is that people are now talking between PMLN and PTI, and not about PPPP who has ruined the country over the last 5 years.
Moazzam Salim Apr 17, 2013 08:14am
Had a personal contact with Abrar's Sahara for life Trust back in 2002. Back then they were more interested in collecting donations and spending them on family BMWs. Maybe the change tsunami has changed him...and then may be not.
FJ Siddiqui Apr 17, 2013 08:22am
This is what lack of education and poor awareness do to people, inability to differentiate between petty short acting development works and core system improvements with far-reaching effects. That is the very reason 'experienced' politicians have kept people from getting educated. Tough task ahead for PTI candidates to get this point across.
Muhammad Saeed Apr 17, 2013 09:16am
We must differentiate educated and degree holders. several times non-degree holdlers in rural areas have better common sense and better awareness of the problems surrounding them (It is not to understate the importance of education but to acknowlege the worth of local knowledge and resources). They are often more influenced from accomplishment, not from promises and rhetoric. Ahsan Iqbal is any way a well educated and experienced leader with proven accomplishments and deep insights for future development of the people of Pakistan.
Bilal A Apr 17, 2013 09:46am
I personally belong to Narowal-Shakargarh Area, And i tell you what people, AHSAN IQBAL is a cheat.NO WORK has been done anywhere in constituency. Just get in to Tehsil Shakargarh main bazaar, Narowal main bazar you will get to know everything, But yeah A road that goes to Ahsan Iqbal's residence that for sure have been painted with black color(poor quality rood construction).
Nadeem Ullah Apr 17, 2013 11:12am
It's not true that he has done development. Look at the roads leading to Narowal from Lahore. There is no justification about why he has not done this in past 5 years. He has been involved with Sharifs to save Lahore only..
Haroon Apr 17, 2013 12:07pm
Development is the job of those who have been entrusted the responsibility by the people and they are paid for by the same people, nothing to boast about.
Tariq Apr 17, 2013 12:35pm
Pakistan needs real infrastructure with substance in all disciplines and not "SHO SHA" at elections times to hood wink the simple rural folk to win their vote and then forget them once in power. And why O why our people vote the same old faces back in time and again??
debater Apr 17, 2013 01:30pm
The reason we need to focus on change is to give strong message to the dictating family politics that we will continue to change till we find someone who deliever. Only than these corrupt politician will be defeated, and will finally leave the country to settle in their multi million dollor investments abroad.
Tagahb Apr 17, 2013 02:24pm
I don't understand how people can accep Nawaz Sharif as their leader. I am also unable to understand how people who have spent decades in politics and have grey hair would report to Bilawal Zardari. Seems like zarorut Kai waqt gadhay to bhi baap banana perta hai will always apply in Pakistan.
Kdspirited Apr 17, 2013 02:29pm
Wow all mr Ahsan Iqbal is capable of is hitting Imran Khan below the belt. This is what so called education teaches you. If you were that good a candidate you would let your acomplishments speak for themselves. It shows that you people have no class and will stoop to any level to get in to power and forget about the people. Our people do not vote on issues and merits and vote on emotions and rhetoric and because of their lack of education that is something that will never change. I wish my countrymen and women some sense to open up their eyes and minds to reality on the ground.
Akram Apr 17, 2013 02:33pm
how good a candidate can he be if he thinks Nawaz Sharif is a leader? its time these family ltd companies were consigned to the dustbin of Pakistani history.
Ahmed Apr 17, 2013 03:21pm
hahaha you are right, shows the quality of reporting. very subjective. who knows what else the writer has dreamed up.
endcorrupt Apr 17, 2013 03:40pm
PMLN & PPP will build all the roads you want, as long as you & your family dont get education. They want you their slaves, you can walk on the fancy roads but not drive as these corrupt politicians can only drive. Vote for Abrar & PTI please! Lets change our fate & bring PPP & PMLN to justice.
Tariq Apr 17, 2013 03:43pm
There is a group or some people on someone's agenda who have tried their utmost about the character assassination of Mr. Imran Khan and did a kind of their own ehtesab even election are still to be held but I predict he is going to win and the PTI will win INSHALLAH and we will finally defeat corrupt politicians ( Friendly Opposition).
Nasr Apr 17, 2013 03:46pm
I do wonder about the same. One thing only comes to my mind is due to lack of education there is a big gap in the mind of our people to judge someone. In our country a good majority of the educated are also uneducated because of the system of our education. Everyone knows how a good minority among us have gotten there certificates & degrees. The Sharif may not be called wadera's but they are wadera's also and I still remember the day while visiting Jam Goth just outside Karachi to meet one of the big boss in the area, I was given a tour of the estate and while coming across the haris in the area those poor people literally went into a sijdah at the foot of their big boss doing chanting "Ada Sainye Adah Sanye" Doesn't this speak of the control of the poor by their Landlords, Waderas?
Nasr Apr 17, 2013 04:01pm
A person is judged on how he speaks. How can you say a person spewing hatred so much with his words against Musharraf can be a sensible man? The Sharif Group is silence in the forefront but offstage their will to take revenge has not died down and anyone who is revengeful cannot be good for the country.
Syed Hafeez imran Apr 17, 2013 06:55pm
a moot question - do you vote for a candidate (an individual) or a party and its manifesto if you vote for a candidate from a party that has been given mandates and opportunities earlier, and not delivered, do you expect any better this time.....think and reflect before decidiing
AG Rana Apr 17, 2013 08:14pm
well raised point!. 05 rupees notes are no more valid.
Ishtiaq Ahmed Apr 17, 2013 08:31pm
The article is rather poor in terms of information. If Abrar has the advantage of belonging to the Jatt biradari then to what biradari does Ahsan Iqbal belong? Is he too is a Jatt? He writes chaudhary with his name.
Yawar Apr 18, 2013 12:04am
Abrar is young and honest, and has the capability to motivate people. I hope he wins.
Muhammad Farooq Apr 18, 2013 01:04am
for a total transformation,not mere change of faces but a total overhaul of system is needed. Iqbal is one of the managers of status quo alongwith Sharifs.
Pro Truth Apr 18, 2013 02:22am
I always wonder why people like Ahsan Iqbal even accept leadership of people like Nawaz Sharif? only because Sharifs amassed more wealth? Ahsan is a good candidate but in wrong party with goon leadership!
Aiza Apr 18, 2013 04:25am
Imran Khan has no experience in what? Miss management, looting and lying for the masses? The man is behind several institutions that are exemplary by any scale! These are the last cramps coming from a desperate losing party.
Adnan Apr 18, 2013 04:53am
Deep insight of the future??? for example?
Adnan Apr 18, 2013 04:57am
PPP always try to win on sympathy votes. PMLN on propaganda.
Shuaib Apr 18, 2013 05:22am
I agree, experienced people with passion is what is needed in Pakistan. "Aa jaa cycle te baith jaa" and "Islamabad se aaye hay fax. Aashiqaan pe laga karay ga tax" type people are good for entertainment. But, we cannot give national fate to them.
Israr Khan IsmailZai. Apr 18, 2013 05:57am
Honesty and PML N, are you kidding?? that's like mixing fire and water.
d384s149 Apr 18, 2013 06:26am
i don,t understand why people looking for pop singer for change.
Muhammad Saeed Apr 18, 2013 06:42am
I belong to rural area of Narowal, a village about 14 KM from Narowal. In the last five years in my village middle school was upgraded to high school, sports stadium was built, and water filteration plants were installed, among others, all under the leadership of AHSAN IQBAL.