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April 8, 2018
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Retired female civil servant to contest for Kurram NA seat

Peshawar

April 8, 2018

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PESHAWAR: Retired civil servant Ali Begum may not be the first female candidate to contest election from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), but she is certainly the first serious contestant from the tribal areas for a seat in the National Assembly (NA).

Her seriousness could be judged from the fact that she spoke at her first formal public meeting in Kurram Agency’s headquarters, Parachinar, on Saturday months before the polls. In fact, she had written to the Political Agent of Kurram Agency for permission to hold the public meeting in the Muhajireen Ground in Parachinar, but the administration advised her to arrange the gathering at her election office due to security concerns.

Ali Begum is contesting from the NA-46 Kurram Agency, a constituency that has undergone a big change after the recent delimitation of constituencies done by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Kurram Agency earlier had two National Assembly seats. Generally one seat went to a Shia candidate in upper part of the agency and the other to a Sunni in lower and central Kurram. Now one MNA would be elected and the sectarian divide could cause problems during the election campaign. The delimitation has made it even more challenging for Ali Begum to contest the polls in this conservative, male-dominated area, but she is determined to go ahead with her plans and win the election.

“I want to give a strong message to the world that Fata is now peaceful and a lady can hold public meetings there and contest election,” she told The News.

Ali Begum belongs to a prominent family from Maikai Malana village in Kurram Agency. Her family is educated and enjoys respect in the area. Her younger brother Dr Miqdad Ali is a well-known cardiologist in Peshawar.

She did her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from the University of Peshawar and qualified the All Pakistan Federal Civil Service examination in 1977. Ali Begum was the first female from Fata to qualify this examination and become a civil servant. She subsequently qualified her Masters in Strategic Studies from the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Ali Begum retired as a BS-22 officer in 2009 after serving for 29 years in the civil service and holding high positions. She served as managing director of the Frontier Education Foundation, chairperson of Governor Inspection Team, secretary Planning and Development Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, director general and secretary, Population Welfare Department, additional secretary Education, additional secretary, Finance Department and chief of Fata Section, Planning and Development Department.

As a bureaucrat, she earned a good reputation because she was hardworking, upright and accessible. She is now using the goodwill she and her family built to interact with the electorate and seek votes.

After retirement, Ali Begum lived with her son in the United States. However, she regularly returned home to maintain her links with her people and area.

As President of the Toledo, US chapter of Pan Pacific S E Asia Women Association (PPSEAWA), an international organization working for women, Ali Begum represented her chapter at the CSW meetings at the United Nations and worked for the good name of Pakistan.

Ali Begum is the second female candidate from Fata to contest for a seat in the parliament.

The honour of being the first-ever female candidate from Fata went to 38-year old Badam Zari, who was born in Mardan and married in Bajaur Agency, in the May 2013 general election. She contested as an independent candidate from Bajaur and was able to make an impact in the media, more so when she spoke about her plans to educate girls. However, the illiterate Badam Zari, whose husband Noor Mohammad was a school principal, failed to impress the deeply conservative voters in Bajaur and polled 140 votes only. The seat was won by PML-N’s Shahabuddin Khan, who obtained around 14,000 votes, while the Jamaat-i-Islami and PTI candidates stood second and third in the contest.

Unlike Badam Zari’s token participation in the elections in Fata in 2013, Ali Begum is an important contender as her achievements are widely recognized and she and her family have over the years served the people of Kurram Agency. She could give other candidates a run for their money and who knows even become the first elected lawmaker from Fata.

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