Skip to comments.Religious hard-liners out in Pakistan
Posted on 02/20/2008 3:17:08 PM PST by NormsRevenge
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Fed up with violence and economic hardship, voters in the deeply conservative northwest have thrown out the Islamist parties that ruled this province for five years a clear sign that Pakistanis are rejecting religious extremism in a region where al-Qaida and the Taliban have sought refuge.
Instead, voters in turbulent North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, gave their support to secular parties that promised to pave the streets, create jobs and bring peace through dialogue and economic incentives to the extremists.
That may conflict with U.S. pressure to step up the fight against armed militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"They didn't do anything for the people," Bokhari Shah, 65, said of the religious parties. "They have done nothing to help the people, and we are afraid to even come out from our homes because of all these bomb blasts."
Five years ago, voters in this mostly Pashtun province many of them from the same ethnic group as the Afghan Taliban set off alarm bells in the U.S. when they elected a provincial government dominated by a coalition of pro-Taliban clerics the United Action Alliance.
The alliance rode to victory on the crest of public outrage over the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, not only winning control of the North West Frontier but taking 12 percent of the vote in national parliament balloting as well.
The religious parties also profited at the time from a move by President Pervez Musharraf to sideline the two mainstream political parties by laying down educational standards for candidates that allowed graduates of Quranic schools long a breeding ground for extremism to run for office, but banned veteran politicians who lacked university degrees.
With hard-line clerics firmly in control, provincial authorities looked away as al-Qaida and Taliban fighters fled into the province to escape U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, expanding their influence throughout the region even to the gates of Peshawar, the provincial capital.
Vast areas of the northwest have been transformed into a war zone, where over 80,000 Pakistani soldiers sought to crush a burgeoning Islamic insurgency. The province has been hit by repeated suicide attacks and bombings, with at least 75 people killed in the past week alone.
American officials believe al-Qaida has regrouped in the lawless area, and Osama bin Laden himself may be hiding in remote areas near the Afghan border.
Much of the trouble occurred in the autonomous tribal areas, which are administered from Islamabad rather than by the provincial government.
But the religious parties headquartered elsewhere in the northwest wield considerable influence in the tribal region, in part through funding religious schools linked to extremist groups.
Powerless to stop the militants, local police stood by as tribal leaders opposed to the Taliban were assassinated and owners of video and music stores received threats to close their businesses or face death.
"They made false promises. They said they would give us education, food and jobs but they didn't give us anything. They were all lies," said retired soldier Mohammed Akram Shah. "I am from a village of more than 30 homes and we don't have any electricity even after five years."
During Monday's election, voters showed they had enough.
The new provincial government is expected to be led by the Awami National Party, a left-leaning, secular group that backed the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan in its war against U.S. and Pakistani-backed Islamic guerrillas in the 1980s.
With the count almost complete, the Awami party has won at least 33 of the 99 contested seats in the provincial assembly, and can probably count on the support of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and other secular groups for a solid majority.
By contrast, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema Islam party, led by Fazlur Rehman and nearly all that remains of the governing Islamist coalition, took only nine seats. In 2002, the religious bloc took 67 seats.
An official of the Jamiat party, Maulana Abdul Jalil Jan, blamed the loss on a decision by several Islamist factions to boycott the ballot, contending any election under Musharraf could not be free and fair.
"We have not done poorly," he said. "People have voted for us but ... there was a mood for change even though our government has done well regarding public welfare during its five-year tenure."
But bread and butter issues and not Islamic fervor appeared to motivate many voters who turned away from the Islamists.
"People were angry and disappointed," said Amjad Ali, who sells grain in a cement-box store in Bazit Khiel, nine miles south of Peshawar.
"The Taliban are over there not far from our area," he said, gesturing toward nearby hills. "But the people will never allow them to come over here. We don't want the violence."
Not far from Ali's store, 25-year old Rafiullah said he voted for the religious parties in 2002 but this time cast his ballot for the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, expected to be part of the provincial coalition government.
"We voted for the (Islamists) before because they promised to change things, to make life better for us, to end the corruption and to bring a good life. But they didn't," he said. "They just brought restrictions. And look we are afraid of bombs and rockets all the time."
Despite revulsion against the militants, there is little support here for the U.S.-backed war against terror especially if it involves deploying American soldiers here.
"We don't support any foreign army in Pakistan," said Khan, the retired soldier.
The provincial leader of the Awami party, Afrasiab Khattak, also wants the Pakistani army, dominated by ethnic Punjabis and considered foreigners by the local Pashtuns, to leave the tribal areas.
Khattak said the army has worsened the situation by sending mixed signals to the militants using them as proxies to fight India in disputed Kashmir, while now striking at them on Pakistani soil.
"We have to make the Pashtuns who are involved in extremism sit down and we have to talk to them," Khattak said. "Most of those who are involved are absolutely mistaken, misguided and brainwashed."
Instead, Khattak wants to reach out to the militants with incentives such as jobs and educational opportunities.
But he does not rule out force as a last resort, adding that those who continue to fight should be dealt with through "good intelligence and strategic strikes not brute force." But he rules out American forces joining the fight.
"This is not our war," Khattak added. "It is imposed upon us. We don't want any foreigners on our land. As Pashtuns, we can solve the problem of extremism."
“We have to make the Pashtuns who are involved in extremism sit down and we have to talk to them,” Khattak said. “Most of those who are involved are absolutely mistaken, misguided and brainwashed.”
This is one of two things.
He is talking about a democrat or he just tuned into an obama speech.
You better have some guns and ammo to back that statement up.
I wish them all the luck in the world.
It seems like ‘give them money or die’ at this point. islam.
those nearby hills are AFghanistan - where our troops are - especially in the islolated Province of the Kunar, Pastu Taliban - where the Taliban hop back and forth, filtering through the numerous mountain passes like rats in sewers\
The increased unwelcome on the Paki side, more are likely to scoot back into the Kunar.
The yearly spring violence has already begun= Pray for our troops
>>Awami National Party
This is actually pretty good news, as a secular, modernity oriented party has actually won in the Pathan provinces.
The onslaughts of vicious religious nutcases, combined with a hamfisted approach by the Army, considered foreigners on par with Americans, seems to have knocked some sense into the locals, that despite the slaughters of tribal chiefs by jihadis, the best bet for them and their children is the Awami Party.
On a historical footnote, before the Partition of British India, it was one party that was ProIndia and AntiPakistan, not wanting the creation of Pakistan.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was the leader, the “Frontier Gandhi” who bitterly remonstrated the British for buying into the Muslim League’s vision for a Pakistan and leaving the Pathans high and dry.
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