PESAHAWAR: A little known lawyer who defeated two-time chief minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao said he had 23 days only to run his election campaign due to the delay in the award of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ticket, but he organized 250 public events on a war footing to reach the voters.
Malik Anwar Taj said he got the PTI ticket on June 29 as the party’s parliamentary board took time to decide whether he or Jehanzeb Khan Dhakki, who had contested and lost the 2013 general election on the party ticket against Aftab Sherpao, will be the ticket-holder.
Anwar Taj said his election campaign was also impeded by threats to his life. “There were security alerts. I was sometimes told not to leave my home. I was warned not to hold any election meeting after sunset. But I defied the warning and continued my campaign at a brisk pace,” he recalled.
The 41 years old Anwar Taj said he was always confident of victory even though Aftab Sherpao had remained undefeated from this National Assembly constituency spread over Tangi and Shabqadr tehsils of Charsadda district. “I remember telling the PTI parliamentary board that I will win this seat by a margin of 15,000 to 25,000 votes. When the members asked as to why I was so confident, I told them that I have been working in the field and had a measure of the voters’ preferences. I also told them that I know about Aftab Sherpao’s weaknesses and the methods used by his men to manipulate the election,” he added.
Anwar Taj remarked that he had been working in the constituency since 2010 after having joined the PTI in 2008. “I was like a malang roaming the towns, villages and hamlets of NA-23. I made it a point not to miss any funeral, wedding and other social occasions,” he recalled.
He said he attended every PTI event and took part in the protests organized by the party in Peshawar, Islamabad and elsewhere. “I abandoned everything else and focused on party work. I have a gas filling station to earn my livelihood, but I didn’t work there as family members took care of it,” he added.
Anwar Taj’s hard work paid off in the July 25 polls. He polled 59,371 votes, far ahead than 33,561 secured by Aftab Sherpao, who was placed third. The runner-up was MMA’s Haji Zafar Ali Khan, who was stated to be an ally of Aftab Sherpao in the past, with 41,391 votes. The ANP candidate Gulzar Ahmad Khan with 18,433 votes, PPP’s Manzoor Ahmad with 13,966, an independent contestant Sobedar Khan with 1,308 votes and PML-N’s Tahira Bokhari with 1,260 were also in the run.
According to Anwar Taj, he found an eager and receptive audience everywhere when he pointed out that Aftab Sherpao had been a provincial and federal minister and twice the chief minister of the province, but the roads were in poor condition, schools were inadequate, healthcare facilities were rudimentary and the constituency lacked natural gas and steady supply of electricity. “We get electricity for one hour during 24 hours in the Matta Mughalkhel area in Shabqadr tehsil where I live. Our elected representatives didn’t raise voice for building the Mohmand Dam which would help develop our area,” he maintained.
When reminded that Aftab Sherpao had undertaken lot of development work in his constituency and provided jobs to his voters whenever he was in power, Anwar Taj argued that this wasn’t enough as the population has increased and the problems facing the people have multiplied.
Anwar Taj said the PTI got record number of votes in Charsadda which was once the stronghold of ANP, QWP and JUI-F. He pointed out that PTI’s Fazal Mohammad Khan defeated ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan and the party won almost all the provincial assembly seats in Charsadda.
Anwar Taj was born to Malik Ismail Sher, an elder of the Tarakzai Mohmand tribe in Pandialay tehsil in the Mohmand Agency, now a tribal district after Fata’s merger with KP, and received his primary, middle and high school education topping every examination in Pandialay. He did his F Sc and BA from the Government Degree College in Charsadda before shifting to Peshawar to qualify his LLB degree by studying at the Islamia Law College.
However, he never practiced as a lawyer because he had set his eyes on a career in politics. And winning an assembly seat, that too from a constituency which Aftab Sherpao had made his own, was the reward for his consistency as a PTI loyalist for the last 10 years.