It may be hard to imagine, but the democratic franchise of “one-person, one-vote” was only granted to the residents of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 1997. The area has been governed under archaic laws, most dating back to the time of the British Raj.
Historically, government postings in the region were prized and immensely lucrative, due to the trade routes that would cut through these areas. In the 1980s, with the Afghan War against the Soviet Union and the influx of drugs, guns and, later, supplies to US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, the trade routes continued to thrive. Various players – including local tribal leaders, Pakistani state representatives and foreign players – have remained invested in preserving the status quo in FATA, and preventing accountable governance from taking root.
The 2013 general election will be the first time that FATA will see a poll where political parties are legally allowed to canvas and campaign as they do elsewhere in the country. It would be a stretch, however, to suggest that this will be a normal election. Much as they are in settled areas, moderate and liberal parties are hamstrung by the sustained threats from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in FATA.
The parties also face the task of reaching out to a large number displaced people from the region – by one estimate, one of out of four people from the Orakzai agency are currently internally displaced people (IDPs).
Traditionally, members of parliament from the region have been independents, and tended to support whichever government was in power, in order to have access to patronage of state resources. With political parties now active in the region, however, any government in Islamabad will be unable to rely on the support of FATA independents. Another striking feature of this election is the sheer number of candidates per constituency – there are, for example, 40 candidates for NA-36, a constituency in Mohmand Agency, while the national average is between 10 and 20 candidates per constituency.
With the introduction of free campaigning and the entry of political parties proper into the race, as well as the large numbers of independents, it is clear that old electoral trends may no longer hold. What they are to be replaced by, however, remains to be seen.