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Same old new Pakistan

May 09, 2013

HARIPUR: Farzana Yousaf finds it amusing that her husband is being forced to work with her cousin. “My cousin and I come from the Raja family. My husband comes from the Tareens. Our families have dominated politics in Haripur for the last many decades — and, usually, the families are at loggerheads in elections. This time, these two men will be fighting from the same Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) ticket,” says Ms Yousaf.

Ms Yousaf is sitting in her mother-in-law’s mansion, just a few hours after Yousaf Ayub Khan (her husband) and Raja Aamir Zaman (her cousin) joined PTI chairman Imran Khan on the stage during a euphoric Haripur rally. Addressing thousands of energetic, flag-waving supporters, Imran repeated his message of change: “Get on your bikes and your motorbikes, your cars and onto the street, and vote on May 11. Vote for a new Pakistan.”

But while Imran is a new player on Pakistan’s political scene, the silver-haired Yousaf or the plump Aamir are tried and tested members of the Haripur elite. Their families are so embedded in the power structure of this part of the Hazara belt, that the PTI’s main rival in the elections, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has handed its tickets to the same families. Aamir will be fighting Mr Yousaf’s cousin, Omar Ayub Khan of the PML-N, for the NA-19 seat, and Omar Ayub’s PML-N colleague on the PK-50 seat (that Mr Yousaf is contesting from) will be none other than Aamir’s younger brother, Raja Faisal Zaman. Unlike his older, PTI brother, Mr Zaman will be competing on a PML-N ticket.

“Yes, we are contesting from opposing parties, but so what?” says Omar Ayub to Dawn. Omar Ayub, who has already switched from the PML-N to Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and back again, says it is important to remember that people from the same family can have different politics. “I disagree with my cousin. And Faisal disagrees with his brother,” says Omar Ayub.

Mr Yousaf agrees. “I have been a PML-N supporter my entire life, but left the party after they supported the renaming of the province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. My politics is very different from my cousin’s. When he joined PML-Q, I did not agree to follow him out of the PML-N. There is no reason I should agree now,” says the PTI candidate, as he makes his way from one corner meeting to the next. “Having said that, there is little doubt that we, the Tareens, have a stable vote bank in Haripur.”

The situation in Haripur, where PTI’s reliance on the same old families means they have fielded candidates related to PML-N politicians, repeats itself across the Hazara belt. A PTI worker from Mansehra, who prefers not to be named, says that the PTI’s decision to award the ticket for NA-20 to the wealthy Azam Khan of the Swati family has backfired. “Swati is supporting his brother, Laiq Mohammad Khan, in NA-21, instead of his party colleague Nawabzada Salahuddin Saeed. There were many of us who were less than enthusiastic that he got the ticket,” says the worker.

Fortunately for Mr Saeed, he might not need the support. Mr Saeed is the present chief of the Tanolis, a family that primarily inhabits the Hazara belt’s Tanawal Valley. Known for his frequent flip-flopping between parties (PML-N, PML-Q and now PTI – when he is not running as an independent), Mr Saeed has won the national assembly seat from Mansehra’s NA-21 four times. Mr Saeed is a member of the old guard and will be counting more on his vote bank than the PTI’s message of change to secure a win from the seat that has eluded him in the last two elections.

Tit-for-tat politics “Imran approached me two or three times before I said yes. I think he felt that we could be of service to each other,” says Dr Muhammad Azhar Khan Jadoon, at a corner meeting with loudspeakers blaring balla ballads about Imran. Dr Jadoon is campaigning in Abottabad, where he is hoping to win from the city’s NA-17 seat.

NA-17, like the rest of the Hazara belt, is a PML-N stronghold. Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan has won this seat in every election since 1990 (except in 2002, when he was rounding up a three year sentence at Attock Fort). Though Dr Jadoon has yet to win the national assembly spot, he has secured 30,000 votes in the last two elections. Kamran Advocate, an Abottabad analyst, says that another Jadoon (Amanullah Jadoon) cut into Dr Jadoon’s votes. This time around, Amanullah Jadoon is not contesting after rumours that the powerful Jadoon family has agreed to support just one candidate on a PTI ticket. The hope is that the two Jadoon vote banks could be combined to beat the heavyweight PML-N adversary.

Whether the PTI’s choice to field Jadoon was an astute decision or not remains to be seen, says another PTI worker who preferred to remain unnamed. Rather, the mathematical and calculated negotiations within the Jadoons and between Dr Jadoon and Mehtab Khan betrays the logic of how PTI has distributed its tickets — ie less on the basis of a message and hope for real change, and more on the assessment that betting on the right horse might land the PTI a significant percentage of the national assembly seats.

Rumours within the PTI indicate that the party’s loyalists are especially concerned about the logic behind PTI ticket distribution. The majority of PTI tickets have not gone to those who have worked to build the party organisation. Ali Asghar Khan, one of the party workers, and a senior member of the PTI, is reportedly upset with the party and rarely shows up at PTI events aimed at supporting Jadoon. “That is only because our schedules do not fit,” says Dr Jadoon, when asked about Ali Asghar’s absence.

“People who know Abottabad speak of an anti-Jadoon, and pro-Jadoon vote. The PTI candidate would fall into the latter category. The PTI has bet on a family that has significant clout in this part of the country,” says the local analyst, Kamran Advocate. Whether the PTI will have the same face in power, with its line-up of old-timers from the Hazara region, as it has had outside of power, remains to be seen.