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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pakistan elections; Badam Zari, the first woman to contest from tribal area

Badam Zari, is making waves……..

Elections in India are festivals…… so much happens in the Indian democracy ! – our neighbouring Pakistan is bracing for the General Elections – to their 14th Parliament, which are to be held on 11th May 2013.  Voting will take place in all parliamentary constituencies of Pakistan, to elect Members to seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament and to the four Provincial Assemblies (Punjab Assembly,Sindh Assembly, Baluchistan Assembly and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly). This will be the 11th general election for Pakistan since 1962, and potentially marks the first successful democratic transition between two elected governments.  This election will mark an end to the third PPP lead government and the only democratic government to finish its term.

For the general elections, the socialist-oriented PPP has allied with PML(Q), while on the conservative side, the PML has allied with PML(F) and Sunni Tehreek. Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan lead centrist PTI has allied with the Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami and Bahawalpur National Awami Party. Pak is modelled on UK type of governance where members; it is  universal adult suffrage, representing electoral districts known as the constituencies of Pakistan. According to the constitution, there are 70 seats reserved for women and religious minorities. They are allocated to the political parties according to their proportional representation.

Far away from the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Karachi, are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) ; a semi-autonomous tribal region in northwestern Pakistan, bordering Pakistan's provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan; Afghanistan's provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Khost and Paktika. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas comprise seven tribal agencies (districts) and six frontier regions, and are directly governed by Pakistan'sfederal government through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The territory is almost exclusively inhabited by the Pashtuns, who also live in the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and eastern Afghanistan.  Afghanistan claims the territory as its own. Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan’s accession to the United Nations after Pakistan's independence because of Kabul’s claim on the Pashtun territories located on Pakistan's side of the Durand Line.

Pakistan’s tribal areas are not known for female empowerment. The Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) which borders Afghanistan is an ultra-conservative region where women are mostly uneducated, and rarely leave the house without their husbands, if at all. The woman now hitting the International headlines is Badam Zari, who cannot read or write despite being married to a headteacher.  She has made history by becoming the first woman approved to run for election in the tribal belt.  Reports state that for years Zari, 40, a housewife, from Bajaur, would walk several kilometres to fetch water and collect firewood. Her travail ended after her husband got a job as the principal of a boys’ school in Khar. But it pains her to see that women in her village still carry on with this harsh work day after day. If she is elected, her priority would be to “work towards providing clean drinking water for her area women and to ensure health facilities for them”. Following Zari is another, Nusrat Khan, a 28-year mother of seven, who has decided to take matters into her hand and contest the coming elections from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) Lower Dir as an independent candidate.

Zari appears confident going by her statements that  “Not only women but also men, particularly some elders, have assured me of their full support and have also promised financial assistance to run the campaign,” ; She said “women are half the population of tribal areas, but unfortunately they have always been deprived of their basic rights”.  “Women in tribal areas are facing immense problems and difficulties because the government has ignored them. They lacked basic facilities of health care and education,” she said.

It is stated that the administration would provide adequate security to Ms Zari. Bajaur Agency has two National Assembly seats (NA-43 and 44) for which 70 candidates have filed nomination papers, most of them as independents.  Some reports add that  Bajaur is one of the many areas in the tribal region where the army has battled Taliban militants. The militants have a history of using violence to enforce their hard-line views on women. Men in Bajaur and other parts of the tribal region have historically discouraged women to vote, saying they should remain at home, according to local traditions. Out of the roughly 186,000 registered voters in Ms Zari’s constituency, about 67,000 are women, according to government records.

Zari is not the first woman in Pak politics – Ms Benazir Bhutto held the powerful position of Prime Minister, but many of those women were from powerful feudal families and none of them were from tribal areas. Perhaps the  election of Zari  could change the way of life for those women in the tribal region who  are uneducated, rarely work outside the home. 

Elsewhere comes that former Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar is not likely to contest on a general seat from Muzaffargarh. According local media reports, she would be allocated one of the National Assembly seats reserved for women instead. Although she has filed the nomination papers from NA-177, a constituency she had won in 2008 elections, she expected to withdraw in favour of her father, Ghulam Rabbani Khar who is also in the run from the same constituency. He had not contested 2008 elections.  Two main reasons are being stated for Rabbani Khar’s decision not to contest from her home constituency. One is Amjad Dasti factor who had announced to oppose her tooth and nail during the upcoming polls to settle scores with the former foreign minister who, according to him, had squeezed his political space through frequent interference in political work. It is feared that Dasti may indulge in political mud-slinging by leveling baseless allegations against Khar. The second reason for her staying out of contest is believed to be her little contact with the voters during the last five years which may deprive her of the seat.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
6th April 2013.


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