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July 22, 2019

‘Bullet se ballot’ tak ka safar


July 22, 2019

Journey from ‘bullet to ballot’ for the people of tribal areas was not an easy one as for the first time they elected 16 MPAs in the first elections for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly after the merger Saturday.

Some 2.8 million registered voters including women participated in the historic democratic transition.

No one went through the kind of trauma they were through for decades. Their struggle did not end even after Independence, as for 70 years, they lived under a draconian law called Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

No one has the answer as why it took us so long to allow them to live under Pakistani laws and courts. Thus, Saturday’s elections were like a dream come true for the people of former Fata. It is no time to take the credit but to give credit to the people of tribal areas for their long struggle.

In a country where first general elections were held after 25 years in 1970, first unanimously passed Constitution in 1973 and first peaceful transfer of power after 66 years, bringing people of tribal areas in the mainstream after 71 years, not really surprising.

What one really feels ashamed that it took us seven decades to apply Pakistani laws and system on the people who always have been part of this land.

The areas like North Waziristan, South Waziristan, which in the past known around the world as ‘hub of terror’ now being appreciated for holding peaceful elections without major terrorist attack or law and order situation.

Had they been part of Pakistani law and system in the last seven decades, they might not have gone through what they went through. Their elders would not have been treated under FCR or by the so-called political agent. The generation which have grown up after 9/11, had only seen ‘violence and terror’ and rule of those who had no right to rule. The children did not go to schools or colleges and left with no other option but to follow the law of the terror. What Pakistanis witnessed whole day Saturday was a complete different tribal areas where old and young, men and women standing in long queues and waiting for their turn to vote.

It is true that in the past people do got elected and called MNAs from Fata, but they never became part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They voted for many laws during legislation but none were applied in their own areas till the law was passed to merge them into KP and bring them under Pakistan’s laws.

All this was not possible without a meaningful operation against terrorism. Once the military establishment decided to clear these areas, the PPP government in 2008, took the first initiative backed by ANP’s provincial government and areas like Swat and South Waziristan and Malakand got cleared by the army. It was during their tenure that the former NWFP was renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkwa. When the PML-N came to power in 2013, and Gen Raheel Sharif replaced Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as army chief, he decided to launch the most decisive operation in North Waziristan.

However, on its own and also due to pressure from the PTI and religious parties, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the then interior minister Ch Nisar decided to give ‘peace and dialogue’ a chance.

After the talks with Taliban failed, the army launched full- fledged operation, which intensified after the massacre of the children of Army Public School in Peshawar.

It was because of this most horrifying incident which also changed Imran Khan’s mindset and narrative and he decided to fully back the operation.

Slogan ‘democracy is the best revenge’ finally came true considering the whole tribal areas practically remained under ‘terror control’ of outlawed groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, al-Qaeda and others. Thousands of people, civilians or non-civilians, political or non-political, social and rights activists and journalists were killed.

On July 20, people of the tribal areas made history when for the first time women come out to vote, two even contested on general seats, one from Jamaat-e-Islami and the other from Awami National Party. Now five, would be nominated on seats reserved for women.

Thus in all 16 directly elected MPAs and five on reserved seats will make a historic debut in the democratic transition when they will take oath in the KP Assembly.

As far as results were concerned, the ruling PTI, perhaps was expected to bag 9 to 12 seats but still came second after Independents (though we still await final results) and performed better than the Opposition parties like PPP, ANP, PML-N and JUI-F.

PPP and ANP must be disappointed as they played a historic role in bringing these areas into mainstream but still feel satisfied at least they have contributed in bringing these people into mainstream politics. Their leaders and workers have been martyred in large numbers since 2008.

As expected and also predicted by some observers, Independent candidates came first in the tally and it would be interesting to see which party they would join in the KP Assembly but chances are that most of them would prefer government over Opposition.

There are two ways of looking at history as Pakistani laws would finally be applied on them unlike in the past. (1) Journey to get collective wisdom finally prevailed without which people would not have got what they finally got it ie fundamental rights, peace and democracy.

One really wonders whether we should celebrate or feel ashamed as it took successive rulers so long to bring them in the mainstream politics. The way forward is to develop these areas, provide them best education, health, clean water, justice, right to know and right to rule.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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