Skip to comments.Pakistan Secular Win 'Will Aid War On Terror'
Posted on 02/25/2008 6:56:56 PM PST by blam
Pakistan secular win 'will aid war on terror'
By Isambard Wilkinson in Peshawar
Last Updated: 1:41am GMT 26/02/2008
A victory for secular parties over an Islamic alliance in Pakistan's frontier province will significantly aid the United States-led war on terrorism, according to a senior western diplomat.
Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the ANP
Secular parties swept last week's polls in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as the electorate rejected violence and extremism in an area where pro-Taliban and al-Qa'eda forces have taken root.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six Islamic parties that scored a landslide victory in the 2002 elections, "had turned a blind eye" to militancy, according to the diplomat.
"I would not say the result vindicated US policy, but it repudiated the MMA government whose hands-off approach led to violence spilling over [from the tribal] to the settled areas," he said.
In the elections a week ago, the Awami National Party (ANP) emerged as the largest in the province, followed closely by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the party of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister.
"Through this election, the Pashtun people have sent a message to the world that they are neither extremists nor terrorists," said Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the ANP. The Pashtun are the dominant ethnic group in the province that straddles the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The ANP, which won 10 national seats and is set to be a key coalition partner in the central government, was targeted twice by suicide bomb attacks in the run-up to the polls that killed dozens of people.
The religious alliance had ridden to victory on a crest of outrage over the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Last week it was security concerns following a wave of terrorist attacks, displeasure over the mullahs' complicity in President Pervez Musharraf's rule and poor governance that turned many voters away from the Islamists.
But there are growing concerns in Washington about what the new government will mean for the "war on terror". Some fear the it may bow to popular opinion that views it as America's battle.
Last week the New York Times quoted American officials as being concerned that recently achieved levels of co-operation - "such as the establishment of a secret CIA base from which unmanned Predator aircraft can attack al-Qae'da terrorists - will deteriorate without Mr Musharraf at the helm.
Four local staff working for Plan International, the British-run aid agency, were killed when gunmen attacked their office in the north-western town of Mansehra.
Pro-Taliban militants have bombed the offices of non-governmental organisations in the past, alleging that foreign-funded groups were trying to undermine their version of strict Islamic law, which bars women from working.
Dozens of local and foreign aid organisations have been working in the area since October 2005 when a massive earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in the North West Frontier Province and Pakistani Kashmir.
In Rawalpindi, the army's top medical officer and two of his staff were killed in the first bomb attack outside the troubled north-west since last week's vote. Five civilians were also killed and 12 wounded.
By Isambard Wilkinson in Peshawar
Last Updated: 12:51am GMT 26/02/2008
The winners of elections in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province last week are to overturn the Taliban-esque edicts of the mullahs whom they ousted.
Pakistan secular win 'will aid war on terror' A tide of cheer has greeted the end of the five-year rule of an alliance of religious parties that did little apart from ban music and dancing.
The MMA government introduced a campaign banning singers, actors, music and film outlets which were later targeted by militants' bombs that killed dozens of vendors and customers.
Mobs attacked musicians who were driven out of the province and destroyed billboards depicting women.
"We will change every MMA policy on culture. Everything is open. All those edicts will be changed," said Zahid Khan, the spokesman for the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pushtun nationalist party that won the most votes.
Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, an ANP leader, said dancing and singing had broken out as election results came in.
"We Pushtuns love religion but we are not puritanical", he said. He added a mullah had asked him to stop the dancing. "I replied, 'We are Muslims and Pushtuns but we are not mullahs'."
Only 14 women contested the elections in the province. One woman campaigned in public and none won a seat.
The Islamic law bill the MMA passed in the provincial parliament was blocked at national level but the mullahs closed down bars in hotels and the provincial capital's cultural venue, Nishtar Hall.
Laila, a popular eunuch who once danced at the hall told a local newspaper he had lost "some beauty" since his performance was banned.
"Still I would perform in the Nishtar Hall if that reopened," he said.
On the mullah's orders staff at the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar had sealed the bar later converted into a lounge.
A spokesman said the management was confident the hotel would soon resume serving alcoholic drinks.
"Everybody knows that entertainment industry was the worst hit of the MMA policies which has badly affected the families of hundreds of artists ", said Tariq Jamal, president of the Artists Welfare Association.
Mullah Rahat Hussain, who lost his seat in the election, said that his party had "opposed vulgarity". "We listen to music for recreation - but that is off-the-record," he said.
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