By Khalid Khattak
LAHORE: Kohistan district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has one of the country’s most inaccessible and conservative pockets.
The district was in the limelight in April 2016 when a massive landslide struck seven houses burying alive at least 30 people. After several days of rescue operation, hampered by terrain and weather conditions, 23 of them were declared dead as the authorities failed to retrieve their bodies. The district also witnessed countrywide public outrage in 2012 over alleged killing of five girls after their video of dancing and clapping at a wedding surfaced.
Ahead of General Elections 2018, Kohistan is once again in the limelight and this time for the lowest number of voters in proportion of its overall population.
An analysis of final electoral rolls issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Population Census 2017 reveals that only 20 percent population of Kohistan is registered as voters. This is the lowest percentage of population-voter share in the country.
As per national analysis, half of the country’s population is registered as voters. Jhelum district of Punjab has the highest percentage of voters in the country as 77 percent of its people are registered voters.
Separately in Balochistan, Kech district has the lowest percentage of voters i.e., 24 percent, FR Bannu in FATA 29 percent, Tharparkar in Sindh 35 percent and Rajanpur in Punjab i.e., 44 percent. In order words, Rajanpur has better percentage of registered voters than Islamabad and Balochistan!
Similarly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Haripur has the highest percentage of voters i.e., 66 percent, Orakzai Agency in FATA also 66 percent, Awaran in Balochistan and Karachi Central in Sindh have 63 percent voters each.
Among provinces, Punjab is on top on the list is with 55 percent of its population as registered voters, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA 50 each, Sindh 47 while Islamabad has 38 percent of its population as voters. Balochistan is at the bottom with 35 percent of its population as registered voters.
The percentage of male and female voters in provinces is almost similar to the country’s overall percentage i.e., 56 percent male and 44 percent female voters.
In Punjab and Sindh the percentage of male and female voter is 56 and 44 percent respectively each, KP 57 and 43 percent, Balochistan 58 and 42 percent, FATA 60 and 40 percent and Islamabad 53 and 47 percent.
The lowest female voters’ population in Punjab has been recorded in district Sheikhupura i.e., 42 percent, Upper Dir in KP 40 percent, Karachi West 40 percent in Sindh 40 percent, Kohlu in Balochistan 34 percent and North Waziristan in FATA 28 percent. Islamabad has 47 percent female population of voters.
The highest female voters’ population in Punjab is in Jhelum and Chakwal i.e., 48 percent, Sohbatpur in Balochistan also 48 percent, Haripur in KP 46 percent, Jacobabad in Sindh 46 percent and FR Peshawar in FATA 44 percent.
As per the ECP’s final list of national assembly constituencies, NA-11 falls in Kohistan district. It was previously NA-23 from where Sar Zamin Khan was elected as MNA in 2013 general elections.
A social worker and education rights activist from Kohistan, Hafeez ur Rehman, said most of the people in the area were highly conservative. In the past they did not want themselves or their females to be registered and photographed for Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs).
However, this trend started fading away with the introduction of financial incentive under Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP)—a programme which provides income support to poor and vulnerable families. “But still owing to non-availability of female staff at the NADRA offices in the district, many people are reluctant to allow their females be processed for the CNIC by male staff,” Hafeez explained.
Hafeez ur Rehman further said people from many scattered areas within Kohistan did not have easy access to NADRA centers in Dasu and Pattan to get CNICs.
He said one good solution to get the same was through mobile teams of NADRA. “People from my ancestral tehsil, Kandia, do not have easy access to NADRA Registration Center (NRC) in Dasu and Pattan and despite many requests and even after providing data of eligible population the NADRA officials have not sent mobile teams,” he regretted.
When contacted Ahmad Nawaz from NADRA Registration Center, Dasu, confirmed that there was no female staff at any of the two NRCs in Kohistan and cited cultural reasons behind this. However, he said the two centers issued record number of CNICs to locals especially females during the last few years. It is pertinent to mention here that of all the registered voters in Kohistan 42 percent are females.
Ahmad Nawaz claiming that NADRA conducted registration for CNICs through mobile vans many times said some areas within Kohistan were scattered and inaccessible while there was also almost no communication networks in place.
While no official stats are available, Jhelum is considered to be among few districts in Punjab from where a considerable number of people are settled abroad in different countries. One can assume higher literacy rate, better facilities and ‘urge’ to be documented may be behind the high number of registered voters in the country. As many as two national constituencies NA-67 and NA-68, previously NA-62 and NA-63 fall in this district.
Main image: Hafeez ur Rehman, Kohistan.