Shagufta Malik is a political scientist and currently provincial president of the ANP (Women Wing). She is Chairperson of the Standing Committee Sports, Cultural, Tourism, Archeology, and Youth Affairs, Chairperson of the Standing Committee of Planning and Development (PND) as well as Chairperson of the Public Safety and Police Complaint Commission. As the provincial president of the ANP, she arranged a Women Peace Convention, which was a great success with more than three thousand women participating. Here is an interview with her on the occasion of our conference.
By Sobia Nazir
Can you tell us about how you came into politics?
My family had a strong inclination towards politics and my mother’s side of the family was associated to the Awami National Party. So I was naturally inclined towards politics myself, which lead to my participation in student politics and later into active politics. When I was doing my Master’s in Political Science, ANP formed their office in the Peshawar District, and I was given the responsibility of being the president of the Peshawar District office. I was then advised by our party president to contest in the District Council elections. I had considered this to be quite a difficult task, as it is not easy for a woman to go from door to door as a part of the campaign for votes. But with the full support of my party ANP, I contested in the 2004 local government district elections. When the election was concluded, I had secured the second highest votes, amongst other much experienced contesters. After my participation in these elections, my interest in the political arena increased as it showed me that I could reach out to the people at the grass root level and have a forum where their issues could be brought up and solutions could be devised. I am the first woman from my family to not only take part in active politics, but to be selected as a member of the provincial assembly.
Can you share your experiences as a woman working in the Provincial Assembly? How is your work relationship with the other female MPA’s?
Before I was elected as an MPA, I was a member in the District Council Peshawar, which gave me valuable experience of working on the grass root level. The current governing party in KPK’s provincial assembly comprises of ANP in a coalition with PPP. There are 22 female MPA’s, belonging to different political parties in the provincial assembly, 9 are from ANP, 6 from the PPP and the rest from the other parties such as JUI, Sherpao, Muslim League N and Muslim League Q. I must appreciate the fact that all the female MPA’s (even from the opposition parties) have always supported causes of women. Whether it be a legislation presented in the Provincial Assembly or a new project to uplift the economic conditions of the women folk. The female MPA’s have also worked closely during dire times when people have needed our support and help. For example, when millions of people came to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, due to the military action taken against the militants in FATA and Swat, the female MPA’s arose to the cause. We donated our monthly salary and bought everyday essential items and distributed them amongst the IDP’s (Internally displaced people). This was only the beginning; the donations increased as the public came to know of our campaign and joined us to help the needy fellow countrymen.
How do you think you can work for the benefit of women in the area?
The women from KPK are more conservative, therefore it is easier for them to discuss their problems and issues candidly with us as compared to the male MPA’s. In this way, we are always well aware of the acute issues being faced by the women, so we can work closely with them to devise various solutions. For example we are using the development funds to build technical institutes in about seven districts, so as to increase the income generation abilities of women from all walks of life. Whether it be women who are house wives or students who are studying in schools and colleges. These institutes will not only help them to develop their skills, but also to create awareness in them to market their own products so as to gain maximum profits from their work. Apart from this, 30% of the finance from the Bacha Khan Poverty Alleviation program will be provided specifically to women. Women will be provided with small loans ranging from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 300,000, so that they may start small businesses and earn a better living. These loans will be provided on interest and tax fee basis.
As you have visited some of the flood affected areas regularly, could you describe how the situation is there? What are the living conditions of the people?
The female MPA’s played a very important role in the relief efforts after the flood. I had formed committees comprising of people from the village and from the party and women of the affected villages. I myself used to conduct personal visits to the affected areas to gather first hand information regarding the needs of the people. The items would then be bought by myself and the committee members and distributed amongst the flood refugees. The month of Ramadan came soon after the flood, I remember going to the camps and shelters of the flood refugees early mornings and returning only late evenings, as the fast would be about to open. At the moment people have enough food to last them for a month or two, since the initial relief packages primarily comprised of food. Now with winter approaching, it is getting colder and they lack proper shelter to be able to avoid the cold. More NFI’s (Non Food Items) are needed such as blankets, warm clothes and better shelter.
Can you describe the selection process for the distribution of aid amongst the affected people? Also, do you think the government has been able to provide relief efforts to the flood stricken people who are in far flung areas?
As most of the relief efforts come to an end, we have begun with the reconstruction/rehabilitation process. The government has started with Watan Cards issuance, according to which each family will receive an initial sum of Rs. 20,000 to help them back on their feet. These cards were issued on the basis of the National Identity cards, scrutinized by NADRA (National Database & Registration Authority) and issued through PDMA (Provincial Disaster Management Authority). Although this is a very nominal sum, we do plan to follow this payment with a second and bigger instalment and then a third one. (About 70 thousand people were affected only in Nowshera.) But the Provincial Government lacks the required funds for these purposes, we have not received any funds from the Federal Government. The Chief Minister called a conference with the international donors to discuss the shortage of funds required to start with the rehabilitation process and thus gain financial aid, but to no avail. Due to which we were forced to take out about 170 Million Rupees from our provincial Annual Development Fund (ADP) of 200 Million Rupees. This fund is very important for the development projects of the province, but now we are using this money to provide the people with the initial financial assistance that they require. Being a democratic government, it was our responsibility to provide the flood affected people with relief. And the elected members were well aware of their duty towards the people and did their level best to reach all the people of their constituencies. People are being provided with cross-cheques issued to avoid any kind of misuse of the aid being provided.
What is being done regarding the education for the children in the flood affected areas?
Initially, the government had placed many of the flood refugees in the government owned schools, since these were the only buildings in somewhat liveable conditions and also vacant as it had been summer holidays at the time the catastrophe hit the region. When in September the summer holidays came to an end, the government told the people to return to the sites of their homes, so that the education of children would not be disturbed. The children have returned to school and are attending their classes regularly. Although the buildings of the schools weren’t damaged extremely, the furniture and most of the school equipment was washed away. We, the government, are trying our best to make the schools fully functional as soon as possible. We had a meeting with the Planning and Development Department just a couple of days ago, which in turn informed us that they are working on the complete restoration of schools on priority basis.
How is the political situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the flood?
The people of our province KPK have been facing many problems since 2005 in the form of the earthquake, the rise in militancy and now this flood. All this has led them to be under continuous stress and tension. But ever since we have been in the Government, we have been working hard to meet the promises we made to our voters. We have succeeded in changing the name of the province to KPK, which was a long awaited desire of the people. We are also working on other issues such as provincial autonomy, 18th amendment etc. People are appreciating our efforts and do recognize the numerous problems that the democratic government has been facing ever since it came into power. I would also like to state here, that the media needs to play a more balanced role. It shouldn’t only criticize the government, but also highlight the various efforts it has made and its achievements.
How is the relationship between the military and the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa concerning the maintenance of the flooded areas? Is there some discussion and cooperation or is it more a situation of competition?
The military and government have been working in close cooperation in order to provide relief efforts to the flood. There were numerous discussions on various issues regarding the relief efforts, and this way we were in a better position to provide aid to maximum number of people in a short span of time.
Ms. Malik, thank you very much for this interview.