Khawaja Asif faces formidable challenge in NA-71 Sialkot-II

Khawaja Asif NA-71

ISLAMABAD: The political battleground of the National Assembly constituency (NA-71) Sialkot-II has become a focal point of intense scrutiny after independent candidate Rehana Imtiaz Dar, the mother of former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Usman Dar, announced her candidacy to face off Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate Khawaja Asif, a political heavyweight in the constituency for decades.

Observers are raising the main question whether Khawaja Asif will be able to retain his seat against strong challengers, especially Rehana Imtiaz Dar, as he had clinched the seat in 2018 elections, defeating Usman Dar by a margin of only 1,406 votes.

The NA-71 constituency has long been a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and Khawaja Asif has demonstrated his electoral prowess by winning from this constituency in 1997, 2008, 2013, and 2018. In a bid to maintain their grip on this critical constituency, the PML-N has once again nominated Khawaja Asif as its candidate for the forthcoming election. However, the opposition is not taking this challenge lightly. The PTI is supporting Rehana Imtiaz Dar, who is contesting as an independent candidate, while Khawaja Owais is running on a Pakistan People’s Party ticket.

Sialkot, renowned for its football exports, boasts a 65% literacy rate. The constituency has 577,281 voters, including 305,133 males and 272,148 females.

The 2018 election results were not without controversy. Usman Dar, who was a Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Youth Affairs, raised objections and challenged the constituency’s results later.

Later in October 2020 it transpired that Khawaja Asif made a phone call to the former army chief on the election night, seeking assistance from him. Khawaja Asif, however, later maintained that he had informed the former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa about rigging.

Political dynamics shifted after the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023. Usman Dar resigned from the PTI and politics, leaving a void in the constituency. PTI’s former MPA from Sialkot, Chaudhary Akhlaq, also quit the party and joined Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party.

Analysts believe that had elections taken place prior to May 9 incidents, Usman Dar would have secured a significant lead against Khawaja Asif as the former had spearheaded development works in the city, thereby reinforcing the party’s vote bank.

Moreover, Dar had actively mobilized voters at the union council and ward levels, a strategy that had positioned him as a formidable candidate against Khawaja Asif until May 9, 2023.

The Dar family’s political stand experienced a resurgence after a video surfaced showing police mistreating Usman Dar’s mother. This incident breathed new life into the Dar family, eliciting sympathy from voters towards Rehana Imtiaz Dar in the constituency.

Moreover, PTI workers and voters have recently shown increased enthusiasm following the announcement of Rehana Imtiaz Dar’s candidacy for the upcoming election.

Analysts say that having polling agents stationed at all polling stations is essential and political parties will have tp mobilize their supporters to ensure a high voter turnout. They say that election management and the mobilization of voters will play a crucial role in the final outcome.

According to public polls conducted on social and national media platforms thus far, Rehana Dar holds a favourable position in this constituency and could secure a convincing victory.

Despite this, Khawaja Asif, a seasoned politician with extensive electoral experience and a substantial voter base, still stands as a formidable opponent.

Opponents allege that the district administration and police are providing unwavering support to Khawaja Asif in the upcoming elections in NA-71 Sialkot-2.

They say that the district administration even facilitated the PML-N power show in Sialkot on January 28, where former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz addressed a large crowd of supporters.

Political analysts believe that Rehana Dar has a strong chance of winning the seat, if the law and order situation remains stable and the voter turnout is similar to the 2018 general election, when Khawaja Asif won with a margin of only 1,406 votes.

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