No political activity allowed in the tribal areas till 2011

For the first time in the country’s history, two tribal women decided to contest National Assembly elections. In doing so, they not only challenged tribal customs but also risked drawing the ire of terrorists who have increasingly begun targeting women for stepping out of their homes.

While Badam Zari (42) is from Bajaur tribal agency, Nusrat Begum is from the adjoining Lower Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North West Frontier Province). Both are contesting as independents and are aware of the risks they face.

Ms. Zari told Dawn newspaper that she had decided to contest to work for the betterment of women of Bajaur who had suffered immensely under the tribal system. Also, she pointed out that none of the earlier representatives of Bajaur had raised issues of women of the agency in the National Assembly.

Tribal customs

However, outgoing representative Akhunzada Chattan was quoted by The Express Tribune as saying Ms. Zari’s decision had not gone down well with the tribal people. Pointing out the difficulties a woman candidate was likely to face campaigning in a tribal agency, he said she would find it difficult to even get women polling agents due to tribal customs and low literacy rates among women.

In Mr. Chattan’s opinion, it would have been better for Ms. Zari to have first worked within the community to create an environment conducive for women to participate in politics than diving right into the deep end of the pool.

Political activity was an alien concept in Bajaur and the rest of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) till 2011 when the Political Parties Order (2002) was extended to the seven tribal agencies. Till 2011, no political activity was allowed in Fata and parties were not allowed to have units in the tribal agencies. But even now, under Article 247 (3) , the writ of Parliament does not extend to Fata. The agencies are under the executive authority of the federation and none of the legislators elected can actually legislate for Fata.

Nusrat Begum has had experience with politics, having been the district vice-president for Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf. Like Ms. Zari, she feels that no elected representative in the past has worked for people’s welfare .