By Zia Ur Rehman

March 15-21, 2013

Former president and chief of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf has announced he will contest the upcoming elections from Chitral.

Chitral is the most northerly district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and situated in its Malakand division. There is one National Assembly constituency in Chitral (NA-32) and two provincial assembly constituencies (PK-89 and PK-90).

APML information secretary Asiya Ishaq is very optimistic. She said the people of Chitral had a deep love for Musharraf and vice versa. “During Gen (r) Musharraf’s tenure as president, large sums were spent on the development of basic infrastructure in the city,” she said. “And especially, the opening of Lowari Tunnel connected the rugged mountainous valley with the rest of the country.”

Local political analysts say the Lowari Tunnel was indeed a big achievement that makes him a stronger candidate from NA-32, but the political situation on the ground is completely different from how his party sees it.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are the key political parties that have strong organizational set-up in Chitral district. The Awami National Party (ANP), having contested elections from the district since 1970, has also emerged as an influential electoral party this time, especially after its provincial government carried out several development projects in the valley.

Sahibzada Muhayuddin of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) won the NA-32 seat in the 2008 elections, and JI’s Abdul Akbar Chitrali won the seat on a Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s ticket in 2002.PML-Q’s Ghulam Muhammad and PPP’s Saleem Khan (incumbent minister of population welfare) were elected from PK-89 and PK-90 respectively in 2008.Musharraf and Chitrali are the only two leaders who have announced their candidacy so far. Although the PPP is still a popular political party in Chitral, it has not won the National Assembly seat since the 1988 general elections. Begum Nusrat Bhutto won the NA-32 seat in the 1988 elections, followed by another PPP candidate Ghafoor Shah after she relinquished it.

Local political workers say Chitral was once regarded as the second Larkana, but internal differences in the party at the district level hurt its popularity in the valley. Sources in the PPP say Asma Arbab Alamgir, wife of federal minister Arbab Alamgir, is also planning to contest the National Assembly elections from Chitral. Col (r) Sardar Muhammad Khan and Maulana Abdul Rehman are possible candidates from the ANP and the JUI-F respectively. But local analysts believe the actual battle on NA-32 will be between Musharraf and Chitrali.

Musharraf was invited to contest the elections from Chitral by Sahibzada Muhayuddin, the incumbent MNA. The Ismaili community has also decided to support the former president. If Musharraf does not return to Pakistan, his wife Sehba Musharraf may be the alternate candidate.

Sources in the APML say the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had also promised to support Musharraf on a constituency in Karachi, but it seems to have backed out.

“Surprisingly, a number of possible candidates from Chitral are taking Musharraf seriously and are opting for the provincial seats instead,” tweeted Khalid Munir, a political analyst.

But Abdul Akbar Chitrali rejects the perception that Musharraf is a popular candidate from Chitral. “He should come to Pakistan before talking about where he would contest the elections from,” he said. Chitrali is the nephew of late Maulana Abdul Rahim, an influential cleric who also elected MNA in the 1993 polls