In terms of Fata, the coming polls are fascinating in several ways. For instance, Badam Zari has made history as a woman contesting elections here against 25 male candidates, many amongst them powerful chieftains from Bajaur Agency. Then, political parties have the legal cover to carry on political activities and field candidates for the National Assembly.

The extension to Fata of the Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002 galvanised political activities here. Candidates and their supporters have hoisted their respective parties’ flags, are carrying out door-to-door campaigns and are organising corner meetings in the militancy-hit Fata, which comprises seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions.

The then president Farooq Ahmed Leghari introduced the adult franchise system in the tribal areas in 1997. The extension of the PPO 2002 to Fata was a long-standing demand of political parties and civil society groups.

Accumulatively, Fata has a total of 12 seats; in terms of the National Assembly, Bajaur has two seats, Mohmand one, Khyber two, Orakzai one, Kurram two, North Waziristan one and South Waziristan two. The frontier regions of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Lakki Marwat form a single constituency, NA-47.

The total number of registered voters in Fata is 1,738,313, including 596,079 women. A handful of voters will for the first time cast their votes outside their home constituencies.

Almost every political party has fielded candidates for polls in Fata. Yet in a few constituencies such as North Waziristan and South Waziristan, candidates of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement have been marginalised. They could not field candidates in North Waziristan because of the threats made by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Female voters in North Waziristan have a minimal chance of casting their votes, while the ANP candidate and workers in NA-41, South Waziristan agency, were prevented by the local Taliban Shura from hoisting the party’s flags and banners. In the rest of the constituencies in Fata, candidates have been provided a more or less level playing field on which to conduct their campaigns.

By and large, Fata is now seeing less violence than Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan. The general apprehension was that the tribal areas would prove far more volatile and dangerous for candidates. Nevertheless, the Qaumi Watan Party candidate has been kidnapped from Mirali, North Waziristan, while the poll offices of two independent candidates in Wana and Miramshah have been bombed.

Candidates in Fata are facing a daunting task in terms of reaching out to voters that have spread out across the country due to internal displacement over the past five years. This has made the campaigning very difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

For example, a candidate from NA-42 (comprising the Mehsud tribe-dominated area of the South Waziristan agency) is desperately looking for voters that now live in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore or Peshawar. Similarly, instead of conducting the campaign inside his constituency in Parachinar, a candidate from NA-37 (Kurram Agency) is running after his voters in Kohat, Peshawar or Islamabad.

Almost all the candidates will have to arrange transport to bring their voters from Sindh to Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Peshawar or other areas where the Election Commission of Pakistan will set up polling stations for displaced persons. Displaced people from South Waziristan, Orakzai, Khyber, Kurram and Bajaur will cast their votes at polling stations in Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Hangu.

Although Badam Zari is the first woman in Fata to take part in the race, which is considered an encouraging step, in general the political parties have failed to exploit the situation to their benefit.

Except for the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), other political parties did not do their homework before allotting tickets to candidates. In many constituencies political parties allotted tickets to politically insignificant personalities in order to fulfil formalities. Meanwhile, many potentially strong candidates that are affiliated with different political parties have refused to accept tickets and decided to contest elections in an independent capacity. The ANP nominated Nisar Mohmand from NA-36, Mohmand Agency, and the JI allotted its ticket to Salim Khan on NA-38, Kurram Agency, but both refused. Their tribes pressurised them to contest elections as independents.

Similarly, the JUI-F withdrew its candidate and supported an independent, while retired Air Marshal Syed Qaiser Hussain, elder brother of the slain PPP leader Dr Syed Riaz Hussain, preferred to contest elections as an independent candidate from NA-37, Kurram Agency. Former MNA Sajid Hussain Turi, who had joined the PPP, is also contesting the elections from the same constituency as an independent candidate. They are not showing their affiliation with the PPP because of local tribes’ pressure — despite the fact that the PPP has strong support in Kurram.

The PPP has allotted the ticket for NA-37 to a politically irrelevant figure. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Engineer Shaukatullah, despite close ties with President Asif Ali Zardari, did not accept the PPP’s ticket.

The extension of the PPO 2002 generated political activities and defused sectarian tensions, no doubt, but it could not break tribal bonds.