by Zia Ur Rehman

Central Asia Online

March 8, 2012

PESHAWAR – A recent escalation in political party activity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) indicates that defeat of the militancy in the region is only a matter of time, political and security analysts said.

”]In a first, political parties in FATA are campaigning for votes fearlessly, ahead of general elections expected within the next 12 months.

“Tribal people are very thankful to President Asif Ali Zardari, who lifted a 64-year-old ban in August on activities of political parties in seven tribal agencies of FATA,” said Akhundzada Chattan, a parliamentarian from Bajaur Agency and a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He said such reforms would help defeat the militancy in the tribal region.

In August, Zardari extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) to FATA and introduced a regulation to amend the colonial-area Frontier Crime Regulations under Article 247 of the Constitution, putting FATA on an almost equal footing politically with other regions in Pakistan.

Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 assemblymen and 8 senators were elected independently and could not join any political party. Now, tribal candidates will be allotted symbols of their respective political parties in the next general elections.

The Awami National Party (ANP), the PPP, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are the main political parties in Bajaur Agency. They have launched political campaigns with big gatherings in the tribal agency since early January, said Ghaffar Tofan, a local journalist and activist based in Bajaur.

Taliban militants killed many political activists, especially members of the ANP and JUI-F. Political leaders Asfandyar Wali (ANP) and Maulana Fazalur Rehman (JUI-F) narrowly escaped suicide attacks. Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, head of the PPP-Sherpao, and Amir Muqam, provincial president of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, were also attacked but survived unscathed.

JUI-F recently organised two public rallies in North and South Waziristan last month despite militant threats, said Maulana Rahat Hussain, former senator and central leader of the JUI-F, referring to distribution of Taliban pamphlets warning local tribesmen not to attend the JUI-F’s rallies.

“In spite of threats … about 15,000 local residents attended our rallies,” he claimed, suggesting the people now are frustrated with the militancy and have trust in democratic governance.

“(The) recent rise in political activities in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies shows the majority of tribesmen are joining liberal political parties, including the ANP and PPP, rejecting religious and conservative political groups,” Tofan told Central Asia Online.

Tribesmen are suspicious of religious parties, he said.

The number of voters in the tribal areas has grown, according to official sources and media reports. More than 1m residents have obtained computerised national identity cards in seven tribal agencies, Daily Dawn reported December 28.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in 2011 added 759,775 voters under the Drafted Electoral Roll (DER)-2011 and FATA local authorities registered 1.3m new voters in FATA, Dawn reported.

According to DER-2011, Bajaur Agency had the most voters, with 295,278 registering in 2011, Dawn reported. Other agency numbers for the year follow: Khyber, 259,575; Kurram, 214,092; Mohmand, 154,189; North Waziristan, 137,009; and Orakzai, about 84,000.

The number of registered voters in South Waziristan, according to DER-2011, is lower because military operations against militants have displaced residents from their native areas, the report said, citing Shamshad Khan, assistant election commissioner for South Waziristan.

“The rise in voter registrations in FATA also indicates that tribal people reject militancy completely and believe in democratic and political practices,” Chattan said.

FATA is the only region of Pakistan that has no female representation in parliament, but political activists predict change is brewing for the upcoming election because of a rise in women’s voter registration and political participation in tribal areas.

Saba Rehman Mohmand, a graduate of Peshawar University, was recently elected as vice-president of the ANP in Mohmand Agency.

“I am the first ever lady from FATA who has become vice president on a general seat, not in a specific women’s wing, and it definitely feels good to have this great honour,” Mohmand told Central Asia Online.

A woman is in Mohmand’s cabinet, too.

“It seems good changes have taking place in FATA regarding to women’s emancipation in mainstream politics. With the passage of time, it is becoming the need of the hour that women should come forward and join mainstream politics,” Mohmand said.

Without support from female voters, tribal candidates or political parties would not able to win the elections, Tofan said. The new computerised voter lists of Bajaur show that about 91,000 of the 290,000 voters are women, he said citing NADRA officials.

In past FATA elections, women, even if they were aware of the importance of voting rights, were barred from voting or their male relatives discouraged them from casting ballots, Peshawar-based women’s rights activists Naghma Shah said. Now the situation is changing, she added.

“Women’s emancipation in mainstream politics would be obviously a great blow to Taliban militants who drove an anti-women campaign in the FATA,” Shah told Central Asia Online, adding that the militants destroyed girls’ schools, barred women from social and economic activities, and even flogged women publicly.