by Zia Ur Rehman

April 26- May 2, 2013

As the general elections draw near, political campaigns in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Balochistan have intensified.

The Pashtun belt of the province consists of constituencies NA-261 (Pishin-Ziarat), NA-262 (Killa Abdullah), NA-263 (Loralai-Musakhel-Barkhan) and NA-264 (Zhob-Sherani-Killa Saifullah). There is also a huge Pashtun vote bank in Quetta, in NA-259 (Quetta) and NA-260 (Quetta-Chagai-Noshki) along with Baloch, Hazara and Punjabi settler votes.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Nazaryati (JUI-N) are the key political parties in these areas. Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) have also fielded candidates, but analysts say they are not in a position to win.

PMAP, a well-organized, influential Pashtun nationalist party, did not participate in the 2008 elections, leaving the field open for JUI-F, ANP, PML-Q and PPP. Political observers say its return will have a significant impact. The PMAP has fielded seven candidates for the National Assembly and 23 for the provincial assembly.

“We expect to win three national assembly and more than 10 provincial assembly seats,” said a PMAP leader. He said his party would benefit from the rifts in the rival JUI-F.

The JUI-F faced a major setback in the 2008 elections in Balochistan when disagreements over the allotment of party tickets resulted in the formation of a dissident JUI-N.

JUI-N chief Maulvi Asmatullah defeated JUI-F provincial chief Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani in NA-264, and also won a provincial assembly seat. The two parties are competing against each other all over the Pashtun belt.

JUI-F leaders do not think the new rivals will hurt them. “The JUI-F will emerge as the largest political party in the Pashtun districts of Balochistan. We have a traditional vote bank here and a strong organizational set up,” said Jan Achakzai, who is also the spokesman of party chief Fazlur Rehman. The return of PMAP would not affect the JUI-F either, he said, because its supporters had voted for the JUI-F’s rivals.

“JUI-F’s popularity in Balochistan has increased in the last four decades,” said Ahmed Wali Mujeeb, a journalist who monitors politics in Balochistan. He said the party had secured only two seats in the 1970 elections, and 18 in the house of 65 in the 2002 polls. In 2008, it won 10 seats.

The absence of PMAP had benefited the ANP, observers say. It won three seats of the provincial assembly. This time, the Pashtun ethnic vote will be divided.

The most interesting contest in Balochistan is expected in NA-259 (Quetta), where Mehmood Khan Achakzai of PMAP will compete against Hafiz Hamdullah of JUI-F, Mir Maqbool Lahri of PPP, Maulana Mehmoodul Hasan Qasmi of JUI-N, and Abdul Khaliq Hazara of Hazara Democratic Party. The PML-N has announced it will support Achakzai, who political observers say is likely to win easily.

In NA-260, JUI-F’s Manzoor Mengal, PPP’s Sardar Omar Gorgaij, Balochistan National Party’s Agha Hassan and National Party’s Muhammad Yousaf Notezai are being seen as strong candidates. PMAP’s Abdul Rahim Mandokhel and JUI-N’s Hafiz Fazl Baraich also have support in Quetta, but not in Chagai and Noshki. NA-260 is the largest electoral constituency of Pakistan.

In NA-261, there will be a tough contest between Maulana Agha Muhammad of JUI-F and Essa Roshan of PMAP. Haji Nazimuddin Kakar is representing the ANP and Abdul Wahab Barakzai is the PPP’s candidate.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai is expected to face a tough competition in his native NA-262 constituency, where JUI-F fielded Haji Rozuddin. ANP has nominated Haji Abdul Jabbar Kakar for this seat. Local political observers say the constituency is sensitive because of tribal feuds.

In NA-263, PML-N’s Sardar Yaqoob Khan Nasar will face JUI-F’s Maulana Amir Zaman. PMAP has fielded Akhter Shah, but is likely to support Nasar on this seat in return for PML-N’s support to Ackhakzai in NA-259. In NA-264, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, provincial chief of JUI-F in Balochistan, is competing against PMAP’s former senator Raza Muhammad Raza. Sherani was elected MNA from this constituency in 1988, 1990, 1997 and 2002, after which JUI-N chief Maulvi Asmatullah defeated him in 2008. PMAP’s central leader Nawab Ayaz Jogezai, who won this seat in 1993, is competing for a provincial assembly seat in Quetta.