By Dr Ghayur Ayub

A recent report by an investigative journalist of a known newspaper on how tribal senators bought their way into the Senate is not something new. History reveals that candidates have regularly been violating rules, both in tribal and settled areas, under the very noses of the Election Commission. The difference is that in settled areas, candidates take advantage of loopholes in the law while in the FATA they flash money as if shopping in an open bazaar. Buying and selling votes in FATA took an enormous leap when Musharaf led government introduced one-man-one vote system. The idea was good but it was done in haste. The proponent of the change ignored the fact that tribal society generally runs on the principle of three Zs- zar, zan, and zamin. The candidates there buy votes with pride while the voters sell their souls without guilt.

Up until the change in voting system, the elections in tribal areas were based on selective voting meaning that only maliks were entitled to cast vote. Interestingly, this system became the basis of BD electoral system introduced by Gen Ayub in early 1960s. The malik system in the tribal region by itself is an altered form of khanate system of Mongol which was taken by Turks and was operative when British took over the Raj in the north west region of undivided India. The British government made lists of centuries old Khans and converted them to maliks. The maliks were paid yearly grants called 'wazifa'. The bigger the malik, the bigger his wazifa. The maximum amount was fixed at Rs.50 a year.

In Kurram agency, there were only two Khans turned maliks who received Rs 50. After independence, Pakistan carried on with the system with one exception; it started increasing the number of maliks according to the political needs. The Governor of NWFP, with recommendation of the Political Agents, started registering maliks for as little as 50 paisa wazifa. Thus, in no time, the number of maliks multiplied. In the recommendation process, the muharar (a senior clerk) of the political agent played a pivotal role. Being the keeper of the prestigious register, he became the eyes and ears of the PA and the newly registered maliks would do any thing to keep him happy. The maliks thus installed were involved in:-

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Before the electoral change by Musharaf, the maliks got financial benefits from influential candidates backed by the political agent. As it involved a handful maliks under control of the muharar, the amounts was not huge. I remember when I was in England for my higher studies in surgery, I got a message that a close relative of mine took Rs. 5000/ and cast a vote on my behalf (I was a malik through inheritance). When I rang him, he laughed, saying that he paid Rs.1000/ to the muharar in the deal. The game still goes on with one major difference – the local religious groups and a few rich locals have jumped into the arena, increasing the rates manifold. I pointed this out in my article “Electioneering in volatile Parachinar” when I took part in NA election of 2008. I wrote, “Soon I adapted myself to the norms and started doing what other candidates did with one difference; I was not filling my pocket or the pockets of others. Instead, I announced in one of the meetings with 22 candidates (yes there were 26 candidates contesting the election- 22 Shias and 4 Sunnis) that we should put aside a handsome amount to help the ‘Qaum’. That didn’t go down well with the candidates but was appreciated by the public. Soon, I became the talk of the town and I started getting anonymous calls threatening me with dire consequences.”

What happened in the end is only known to a few locals and the 'Anjuman', a committee comprised of representation of eight Shia tribes headed by the proprietor of a local religious madrisa. All I can say is that the game involved cash only. Bank checks were not accepted. In that respect, the tribal people are wiser in the matter of zar. Someone told me that when ISI was in a spending spree in late 1980s to counter PPP dominance by forming IJI, they used bank checks.

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In the NA election, I found that the young and the educated seemed dismayed by the corrupt electoral procedures. The students and the teachers of the local degree college called on me showing their disgust, the way the maliks and the religious leaders were used by the government. Their voice was forceful but politically not strong. Maybe, the time was not right for voices like theirs to be heard and create waves amongst the public.

The same game was played in the Senate elections of 2009 with more inflationary requisites. I had a similar experience in that too. Not many would know that the Senate election for FATA seats is different from the rest of the Senate seats. In simple terms, it means repeated counting of the votes cast by the FATA MNAs in order of their preferences. In this way, for a candidate to become a senator, he needs between 1.5 to 2 or sometimes 3 MNAs. So the rates are according to the preferences of the MNA. In the last Senate elections, the FATA MNAs played an intriguing game by making 'groups' of four MNAs. Thus each 'group' was able to 'select' two senators. As there were four Senate seats, a competition started among the 'groups' resulting in a steep rise in their 'demands'.

For example, a college friend of mine from FATA who won NA elections in 2008, had promised to vote for me in the coming Senate election. All I needed was one more vote. For that, I approached another MNA who is a family friend. He was more straightforward and told me his vote was in the hands of the 'group' and that the members had taken an oath on the Quran that they would stick to the collective decision made by them. He said he would let me know after a meeting with the other members. Meanwhile, the MNA I knew from my college days, started going back on his promise. First he started avoiding my calls and later sent me a message that his hands were tied as he was a member of another 'group'. The second MNA, after having two meetings with his group, came up with a certain amount. I wanted time to think over it. A week later, I was informed that the amount had gone up. It was double that of what he had demanded the first time. Ten days later, it trebled and then quadrupled. I was told that the 'price hike' was due to the betting competition between the 'groups'. Obviously, I was out of the race. Later, I came to know that the final stake was ten times what they demanded the first time.

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As mentioned earlier, the settled areas cannot be excluded from the game either. For example, according to election rules, a candidate for the Provincial Assembly is allowed to spend half a million rupees and for the National Assembly, one million rupees. In the elections of 2008, I saw a huge billboard on a main road in Peshawar, promoting a candidate. I was told that one board was worth quarter of a million rupees. I counted four such billboards erected by the same candidate in different parts of the city. It was the same story with other candidates. Each one spent multiples of what was allowed by the election commission flouting electioneering rules. The Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Justices of the higher courts knew about it. But did they take any action against such irregularities? Not to my knowledge. Barring a few, most of our parliamentarians from tribal and settled areas have flouted the rules of election; some openly and others not so openly. The question is, does any body care how elections are won in tribal area and for that matter in the rest of Pakistan? If you ask people they will give a meaningful smile and shrug their shoulders. In body language it means, 'who cares'. Thus, the game goes on.