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Chitral - Political Diary

-- by Islamuddin


Chitral -- While the political players of Pakistan are realigning and repositioning themselves in preparation for the next elections, some significant changes have taken place in the political scene of Chitral. The doyen of our politicians, Shahzada Mohyeddin, who dominated the politics of Chitral for well over quarter of a century has called it a day due to ill health and old age and made his son Pervaiz his political successor as District head of APML to cash the windfall of popularity that exists for Pervaiz Musharaf in Chitral on account of the construction of Lowari Tunnel, for which he is credited. Pakistan Peoples Party failed to share the credit for its construction owing to poor leadership and media management despite the fact that it was Bhutto, who first started work on the project and the same was suspended by the Martial Law government of General Ziaul Haq whose illegal rule was bolstered by some Chitralis. The expectations of the people, that some of the populist policies of PPP initiated in the past to empower the people will come to fruition, have not materialized so far leading to rising public frustration and disappointment with the party. Shahzada Mohyuddin will long be remembered for his powerful personality and impact, most of which is not conducive to Chitralís long term interests. In some way he defined the politics of Chitral and it was very difficult to remain neutral about him as far as his political style was concerned and some of the things he did like failing to conserve forests, promoting contractors interests at the cost of Chitralís sustainable development and culture of impunity and promotion of personality cult leading to the weakening of institutions. But his recent move to join APML is a clever one which likely to bring dividends to his son Pervaiz. Some commentators are giving credit to Musharaf for comparatively clean government before the advent of Choudhrys and they are pleading to give Musharaf a chance as civilian leader and the astute politician in Mohyeddin decided to grasp the opportunity.

Maulana Abdul Akbar, who had emerged as a populist voice enjoying tremendous media coverage could not maintain his position due to his failure to maintain balance between his religious agenda and the needs of Chitral. His obsession first with Shahzada Mohyeddin and now with Saleem Khan has taken the better of him to the detriments of Chitrals permanent interests for which he was eminently placed and from which his party benefited in the last local body elections when his nominee got the prized position of District Nazim despite having minority position in the District Assembly. He only played to the gallery without trying to actually do some thing for Chitral. He even left his job of uniting Chitral unfinished. His posture during this period had received much hype that at long last Chitral had rediscovered itself and vested interests will not be allowed to damage its unity any more. Unfortunately he failed to maintain his across the board popularity on this count and relapsed to his original mindset. He failed to differentiate between individuals and denominations that those individuals belonged to. If an elected representative performed poorly it would not be fair to blame his or her denomination. By doing so he unwittingly fell into the trap of his opponents and may now lose support in the non traditional vote bank in which he had successfully made inroads. As our politicians are learning to be decent with opponents, thanks to the policy of reconciliation pursued by Zardari, foul-mouthing by some may backfire and the Maulana would soon learn it, though in a hard way. If we compare the Maulana with Saleem Khan we see more development work having been carried out despite resource constraints and the Maulana could not do half the job despite having enormous anti terror funds at the governmentís disposal perhaps because he had other priorities. Yes Saleem may be guilty of a degree of cronyism and nepotism but this art had been perfected by the MMA government who used to believe that charity begins at home.

Another significant change in the political landscape of Chitral is the emergence of PakistanTehrik-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, which has gained sudden and unexpected strength with the entry of Wg Cdr (r) Fardad Ali Shah and his supporters. After developing differences with PPP over policy issues he left the party at its prime. A lot of work had gone into bringing Fardad Ali Shah to the PPP fold and the way he was allowed to depart speaks volumes for the lack of sincerity with which party affairs are managed or mismanaged.. Personal agendas of power wielders are taking upper hands over party interests and the perception that make hay when the sun shines appears to rule the roost. As size of the cake is small other claimants are held back on one pretext or another, which is anathema for a democratic mindset which requires increasing support base by winning over opponents and not pushing them away. But here we see the opposite. This is not the PPP that Bhutto bequeathed to his supporters. Saleem  should not have accepted party presidentship in Chitral and instead should have used this opportunity to bridge the differences between the Nazimeen and workers group to reunite the party, for which he was eminently placed by virtue of his position and demeanor as a decent and harmless politician. The fact that Nazimeen group played crucial role in his election made it mandatory for him to do so. The strength of PPP comes from its adherence to principles even at the cost of Shahadat and political expediency for petty gains amounts to betrayal of those principles. The people have already paid the debt owed to Bhuttos and now the party will be judged by its performance as depicted in the media. So far the media has been unkind to PPP government and its media managers have performed poorly. Moreover Fatima Bhutto factor and those of other estranged leaders will also play their role in shaping Chitralís political scene for PPP. She has created quite an impact globally and enjoys support in important quarters, although in Chitral she has yet to make an impact.

The turf war between JI and JUI is still brewing but will not come to the fore in the expectation that MMA may be revived. In that case other parties will find it difficult to beat the alliance single-handedly. However the rising popularity of Imran Khan among the youth promise surprises. Bulk of the people in KPK hold MMA responsible for the rise of Taliban and JI is unhappy with JUI for undermining its position and stealing its voters. In this background some analysts consider PTI as a more potent threat to the religious right, though at present he appears to have soft corner for them.  Imran Khan has to come clean on this score. According to estimates young voters likely to vote for PTI, number 60 million and if they are enrolled and turn up to vote then we are in for big surprises. There is an impression that our establishment and foreign partners who matter, are ready to welcome him as new leader of Pakistan and expect him to rid Pakistan of corrupt elements. During a recent TV program Imran Khan was cornered for allowing corrupt elements in his party, which made his anti-corruption agenda doubtful, his response was that these people have changed. Another problem is Imran Khanís impetuosity and no holds barred emotionalism, which may earn him enemies in an evolutionary democracy and perhaps that is why he calls for revolution. The same may be true for Nawaz Sharif but to a lesser extent as he runs the risk of credibility loss having been given opportunity to rule over Pakistan twice. In Chitral he is known for his disdain for Chitralis and that is enough to diminish his chances here

A local party like CNM continues to hold promise. There is a strong feeling among many people that the peculiar problems of Chitral can only be addressed by a party formed on the basis of local issues. They still bemoan destruction of CNM by vested interests through intimidation, blackmail and bribery. However this nostalgia runs counter to the cross currents of globalization and national unity. But the debate to redrawing provincial boundaries on ethnic lines following the rechristening of NWFP as KPK is likely to rekindle this feeling leading to new political alignments driven by ethnic considerations. There is already a strong movement for Biloristan in Gilgit-Baltistan which encompasses Chitral as well. The rise of MQM is another indicator of the emergence of ethnic nationalism in this part of the world. The divisive role of religious elements also makes pressing case for ethnic nationalism to counter balance divisive extremism with the overriding imperatives for unity and peace, which have been hallmarks of the mountain areas stretching from Kashmir to Caucasia, the home of spiritual Islam until the US backed Jehad Brigade arrived here to defeat Communism by reinventing political Islam of the Arab tribal brand. The option of an ethnic state can be stalled by back rolling religious extremism and encouraging re-emergence of spiritual Islam. For this we have to come out of our strategic depth syndrome and preference for Jehad as a strategic tool and instead reach out to all neighbours for friendship and mutually beneficial relationship.

The next elections are going to be an entirely different ball game. Free media has changed a lot of things. Old methods can not work but performance and character will.  PTI will have to burn midnight oil to cover ground, being a new entrant. PPP will have to improve its record during the remaining period before the polls. Religious right will have to come out of their narrow mindset embracing all sects and developing broad based alliance for an agreed Islamic dispensation. For other parties it is an uphill task but then politics is the art of the possible and miracles do happen.
-- The writer is a former bureaucrat and a political Analyst.-- 21 Aug 2011.


Comment 1

 I would like to appreciate the effort to discuss the political scenario of Chitral. The knowledge and information you have on the subject particularly local parties is marvelous. I wish you take down your Diary in Urdu as well, so that not only your clear, factual and sharp comments may travel to vast readership but also to the local leadership.-- Ejaz Ahmed, Islamabad


Comment 2

I fully agree with the writer's analysis of the current and upcoming political scenario. People are fed up with the current political parties and the unspeakable administrative system. They have seen the real and unveiled faces of all the major political parties and icons. In the next elections, there will be a tough contest for power. But if the people really want ďchangeĒ in the system then they will have to cast their vote in favor of some new political faces since they are now,well aware of the old ones. In this regard, PTI, will be seen as the best option because of the popularity and impeccable character of its founder. It is observed that itís the most popular party among the youth now. So with the new voter lists, PTI will have, definitely, a good chance to represent a vast majority of the people. But for this PTI should include more and more learned and astute people in its ring even at the village level. Elections in Pakistan are not easy so PTI will have to fight tooth and nail to defeat the old and experienced political parties. --Yasir Ali (student), Karachi.



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