New to Pakistan's Taliban-heavy tribal areas: political campaigns
Pakistani President Zardari lifted a 64-year ban on political party activity in the federally administered tribal areas, saying the reforms would help defeat the 'militant mindset' there.
For the first time ever, political parties have started campaigning for votes in the militant-infested tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, ahead of a general election likely within the next 12 months.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in August lifted a 64-year ban on political party activity in the seven federally administered tribal areas, saying the reforms would help defeat the "militant mindset" there.
However, the politicians leading party campaigns in the tribal areas fear that intimidation by the Taliban and human rights abuses by Pakistani security authorities could make a free and fair election virtually impossible.
In the tribal areas, "there is no political government, but one run by the security authorities ... who are responsible for the widespread disappearances of residents suspected of involvement in the insurgency," said Maulana Rahat Hussain, a former senator.
"As long as power remains delegated to them, the democratic process won't work," he said.
Hussain is leading electioneering in the tribal areas for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, or JUI. The country's most popular religious party, the JUI is a former ally of the Pakistani Taliban that broke with the group when it launched an insurgency in 2007. The Taliban subsequently started suicide attacks against the party's leadership, killing several prominent cleric-politicians, and only just missing its chief, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman.
The JUI has held political rallies across the tribal areas over the last two weeks, including one at Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban insurgents.
Hussain said the Taliban distributed pamphlets in the area warning residents not to attend the rally in Mir Ali and threatened him personally. Photographs of JUI cleric-politicians in the company of women in fancy clothes — taken at a wedding — were also distributed in an attempt to defame them among their conservative base, he added.
Nonetheless, the JUI rally attracted an estimated 15,000 tribesmen, local journalists said.
JUI candidates — contesting as independents because of the ban on parties — won National Assembly seats in North Waziristan and neighboring South Waziristan in 1997 and 2008, the first elections held in the tribal areas in which all adults were allowed to vote. In practice, however, that meant only that males could vote, because tribal traditions prevented women from casting ballots.
Despite Zardari's reforms, the estimated 5 million residents of the region are still governed largely by 19th century British colonial laws and don't enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed by Pakistan's constitution.