An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 7 as part of a short series of profiles of women candidates contesting the National Assembly elections on a general seat.
Islamabad – On May 16, 2012, and then again on November 15, unidentified gunmen attacked the car of Khurshid Begum Saeed and her husband Saeed Shah, both Awami National Party (ANP) politicians from Kohat, while they were traveling.
Khurshid was a member of the National Assembly (MNA) on the reserved seats for women at that time. Two people were killed in the first attack but she and her husband survived.
Written threats by militants, addressed to Shah, followed the attacks. One message read, “Tell your wife to sit at home or face the consequences.”
Khurshid, however, is undeterred by the threats of violence.
“Politics is the pinnacle of public service,” she said. “I am going to step outside to serve my people.”
She is running for elections from ANP’s platform on the NA-14 (Kohat) general seat and has ambitious plans for local development and women empowerment in her constituency.
Her campaign has suffered because of the Taliban’s open threat to ANP and other secular parties, but she has not given up. She is holding small gatherings and corner meetings in the Kohat villages.
The voters, too, are somewhat intimidated by the bomb attacks targeting political rallies in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) but they are regaining confidence, Khurshid said.
“There are some people who are scared but overall the morale of the voters is high,” she said. “When they see that a woman is campaigning for the elections, they are further encouraged to vote.”
There are some outlying areas in NA-14 where women have never voted before and Khurshid is trying to turn that around.
“These women are not aware of the importance of their votes,” she said. “I have convinced them that by voting they can play a major part in improving the conditions of their area.”
She said men in some of the villages have also supported women’s suffrage.
Khurshid might lack the cleverness of typical politicians — she admitted she is expecting tough competition from the Jamiat Ulema-Islam-Fazl and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidates — but she has learnt her politics while being in the assembly.
She had no interest in politics when she got married to Shah in 2007. But when the ANP was compiling the list for women candidates on reserved seats in 2008, it could not find enough candidates because of the bachelor’s degree eligibility condition.
Khurshid had a Bachelor in Arts degree. Someone suggested her name, her husband agreed and next thing, she was sitting in the parliament. There, she decided to use her position for the good of Kohat’s residents.
“After I became MNA, I toured my area to find out the problems my people were facing,” she said. “I was elected on a reserved seat but I decided to work as a general-seat representative.”
She claims she spent her MNA discretionary fund on water, electricity and gas supply projects in Kohat, built a library and a press club and got grants for both the Kohat University of Sciences and Technology and a centre for special education.
If elected, she wants to provide better education and health facilities for women in the rural areas. She wants to establish a cancer hospital in Kohat in addition to completing a Burn Centre project she initiated in the previous term.
Finally, she has a message for voters across Pakistan.
“Please think about the impact of your vote and stop fearing the extremists,” she said. “Being afraid will only help the terrorists usurp your freedoms. If you let them decide your fate, the future generations will have to bear the loss.”