After The Tsunami

Countless bomb blasts, devastating floods, a massive jailbreak in which hundreds of suspected militants escaped, a demoralised police force facing devastating attacks, a hostile media, a party riven by factionalism and inexperience and trying to live up to its own rhetoric.
All this is just par for the course in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s provincial government took charge.
Fast coming up to its one hundred day mark, the fledging PTI with its allies, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Sherpao and the Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan of Swabi’s Tarakai family, faces its first electoral test after the general elections in the August by-elections.
Traditional logic states that by-elections in Pakistan’s patronage-dominated system means the incumbent provincial party is usually the winner. While this is often the case, nationally some of the most famous upsets of recent times have been seen in by-elections on NA seats, like when little known Hanif Abbasi defeated Shaikh Rashid’s nephew in Rawalpindi.
This time, the seats are being seriously contested by the opposition. Although several provincial seats are also being contested, the parties seem to be focusing their energies on the National Assembly seats and five national seats are up for grabs. The symbolism of the seats means an incumbent’s defeat would be damaging in the eyes of their supporters. This is one reason for the increasingly harsh exchange of words between Imran Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The first seat is Peshawar and NA-1, which Imran Khan vacated after defeating Ghulam Bilour, the second and third seats were vacated by the PTI’s national general secretary CM Pervez Khattak and provincial president Asad Qaiser in Swabi who defeated Daud Khattak of the ANP and Maulana Attaul Haq Darwaish of the JUI-F, respectively.
At the southern end of the province, the fourth seat is Lakki Marwat where the JUI-F handily defeated PML’s candidate Salim Saifullah with the PTI coming a distant third. In the second seat of Tank, the site of Imran Khan’s attempted rally into Waziristan, the runner-up Dawar Kundi of the PTI lost the seat to the JUI-F.
The ANP and the JUI-F, in particular, have significant vote banks in areas where the by-elections are being contested. The other two big parties, the PPP and the PML-N, while having significant vote banks, seem to have abandoned the contest. In case of the former, the provincial party seems to be still reeling from the scale of the party’s rout and has decided to back the ANP and the JUI-F, while the latter’s national leadership seems uninterested in the province and is not contesting any seat.
In Peshawar, the PTI has nominated Imran Khan’s election campaigner Gul Badshah for the seat. Originally of Afghan descent, his campaign has struggled to attract the same crowds as his party leader. Opposing him is the ANP stalwart Ghulam Bilour. However, things have changed since the general election, as attacks on the party have relented and Bilour has been able to campaign relatively more openly and has gained the support of the PPP as well as the JUI-F.
In Swabi, the PTI’s provincial president and provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaiser has kept it within the family with his brother Aqibullah being the party nominee. Opposing him is the JUI-F-backed candidate Maulana Attaul Haq Darvesh supported by their newfound allies the ANP and the PPP. The seat was a struggle for the PTI the first time round, saved by a splintered opposition, and any win will likely be with the help of the patronage and backing of the powerful Tarakai family.
In Nowshera, the chief minister’s nephew and son-in-law Dr Imran Khattak is in the running with the backing of the Jamaat-e-Islami against the ANP-PPP-JUI-F candidate Daud Khattak. This seat was won by a large margin by the PTI and the addition of the JI vote should give the advantage easily to the party.
Further south in Lakki Marwat and Tank, where tribal loyalties play a stronger role than party loyalties, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s brother Maulana Ataur Rehman is facing the PTI’s candidate Ameerullah Khan who is backed this time by the influential Saifullahs, making what should have been an easy win for the JUI-F far more competitive.
In Tank, Maulana Asad, Fazlur Rehman’s son faces PTI’s Dawar Kundi. While nominally the PPP has withdrawn its candidate in support of the JUI-F, it remains to be seen whether the powerful Kundi tribe will follow the PPP line. If they choose to vote en-bloc for the PTI candidate, it may well inflict a personal humiliation on Maulana Fazlur Rehman.