PARACHINAR: Despite living a comfortable life working in the government, one woman is getting ready to brave the heat of elections to not only help bring development to an impoverished tribal area but also to blaze a trail for other women to step into the social limelight.
Ali Begum is a known and well-liked personality of Kurram Agency, having spent 27 years in government service, serving various parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). She rose through the ranks to work in different aspects of government, from education as the managing director of frontier education to development and welfare as secretaries of planning and population.
Having retired from atop the bureaucratic tree in basic pay scale (BPS) 22 in 2009, Begum moved to the US as the security situation in her native Kurram worsened. But with peace restored, she returned to her homeland with a mission to improve the situation her people live in — this time though, from the corridors of politics.
Despite the advice of her family, Begum intends to contest the upcoming general elections for a seat in the lower house of Parliament, NA-46.
“Since I was a child, I have been pursuing my dreams. I have always been determined of reaching my destination,” Begum told The Express Tribune in an interview.
One candidacy to change a region?
When asked what was motivating her to run from an area which does not take kindly to women in the public arena, Begum said that she had already faced the first hurdle, her family.
“My children, especially my siblings, expressed their reservations and asked how would the family honour remain ‘protected’ in politics,” Begum said, adding, “I convinced them that Kurram Agency has good, problem-solving people.”
She hopes that by wading into politics, it will help give other women of the area courage to stand up and be counted.
“Since politics is a new ground for women [in Kurram], I decided to take the courageous step to promote a better culture and politics. This is why I have stepped into this field,” she stated.
Furthermore, she hopes that it will help the young generation move forward into the 21st century.
“Our women want other women to move ahead, I can be a beacon of hope for them,” Begum said, noting that his had convinced her family.
Begum has also received a boost from some prominent locals who convinced her to run for public office. Allama Muhammad Nawaz Irfani, a renowned spiritual leader in Kurram Agency, had expressed in a meeting with her the wishes of many residents of the agency.
He told her that if she was ready, then the people of Kurram Agency are ready to give her the honour of representing them in the assembly.
Priorities not promises
As with any election campaign, the key question any candidate faces from their respective constituents is what do they promise to do differently from either their predecessor or from other candidates.
Here, for a person who has spent decades in the government, Begum is quite lucid where the pitfalls are and where the greatest attention is required.
“Kurram Agency in Pakistan is very backward. When I see people [elsewhere in the world] progressing, I long for the same in my country,” she says, noting that development of the area is right at the top of her agenda.
“Basically I have come forward with the dream of development and progress in Kurram Agency,” she explains her simple but all-encompassing vision.
Specifically, though, Begum explains that she aims to focus on improving the situation of education and health sectors apart from creating an environment where the public is provided access to modern day facilities such as electricity, information technology and the provision of better facilities.
“Fata needs special attention in the health and environment sectors,” she said, adding, “Right now, my immediate thoughts are that we start a drainage project and allocate for the environment in the federal programme, or include it in the annual development programme at the Fata level.”
Begum, though, acknowledges this will not be easy.
“This will be the first step for a very big task,” she says.
Funding the campaign
While promises may be sold, the currency for running a campaign is still the same: money.
Begum, though, hopes to buck this trend.
“My election campaign will be of a different kind. My target is also different, the youth and women,” she begins.
Terming residents of the agency as “sagacious people who want their area to prosper”, Begum said that where ever she has been thus far to canvas, she has been treated with respect.
Ali Begum kicks off election campaign in Kurram Agency
“The arrival of a woman hailing from Kurram Agency directly into the national assembly will not only be a matter of pride for Kurram Agency but also for the tribes as well. And the people understand this,” she said.
But when pressed on her finances, Begum offered that spending on elections is a necessity for some people.
“The people are not fools. People understand and judge them [candidates]. I do not think it would be wise for a competent candidate to spend heavily in Kurram Agency,” she said, adding that she intends to secure the seat with little expenditure.
“I do not aim or think of making a profit. I have spent my life. The rest of my life is for my nation and area,” she said.