Declan Walsh, The Guardian's foreign correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan, reported yesterday from the campaign trail in Pakistan's Pashtun heartland.
With national elections four days away, Walsh travelled with PML-N provincial assembly candidate and local strongman Anwar Kamal as he wooed voters in the Lakki Marwat district of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). From "Frontier electioneering in Pakistan":
In this area of cloistered women and fortress-like houses, every stop is an occasion for a party. After the shooting stopped the gunmen performed a dance, whirling and waltzing to a reed band. Then they laid down their weapons for a short demonstration game of volleyball, played with a bouncy pink ball.
Meanwhile Kamal, a burly man with a Flashman-esque moustache, was fed, garlanded with tinsel and posed for a team photo. "I've asked people not to use their weapons," he said as his jeep bumped towards the next village, where more gunfire and volleyball awaited. "But they insist. It's part of the culture."
Amid the campaign fun are serious worries for tribal politicians like Kamal, who are afraid that their hold on power in the region, which predates the existence of state power and electoral politics, will be seriously challenged if Islamist militants gain more ground in the province:
The tribal system may seem unjust, Kamal admits, but it is holding this corner of NWFP together, he said. In nearby Waziristan the tribal elders have vanished, replaced by the gun-toting extremists. "We won't let that happen here," he said.
Kamal and many other politicians in Pakistan receive votes through tribal and feudal fiat, and though ostensibly "secular," their rule is no less brutal or more submissive to state authority than that of the Taliban-inspired militants. In the article Walsh describes "bloody conquests" against rival tribes by Kamal and his men, and that Kamal cannot even travel to Punjab, Pakistan's most populace province and the seat of military power, because of an outstanding arrest warrant for his kidnapping of eleven police officers there:
Last September, hundreds of his supporters attacked a police station in neighbouring Punjab province as Kamal led them towards Rawalpindi to welcome their leader, Sharif, home from exile. Eleven officers were abducted and later discovered in Lakki. Now Kamal faces kidnap charges and cannot enter Punjab. "They can come and arrest me here if they want. But they don't dare," he said.
so, Musharraf's political party, the PML-Q, is hoping to make alliances
with local leaders like Kamal in the NWFP in order to outflank the
religious parties who generally support the militants. While much of
the focus of the upcoming elections is on who will succeed Musharraf,
the political fight for control of the NWFP may be more crucial to the
future of Pakistan.
Continue reading Walsh's article: "Frontier Electioneering in Pakistan"
- US News & World Report: "6 Factors to Watch in Pakistan's Upcoming Election"