Religious parties lose out in NWFP, 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.

Source.

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