First choice in Pakistan’s tribal areas

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For years, fighters of the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda or Taliban were accommodated here – now a provincial parliament is being elected in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

For the first time in Pakistan’s 71-year history, people in the insecure tribal areas in the northwest of the country have elected representatives for a provincial parliament. With a constitutional amendment last year, the special territories on the Afghan border, where extremists had found shelter for years, had been incorporated into the neighbouring province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. After the reform, on Saturday nearly three million people were entitled to elect envoys to the provincial parliament of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Almost 35,000 security forces were deployed to secure the elections. 285 candidates applied for the 16 seats in the provincial parliament. For many years, many of the seven districts of the former so-called tribal areas under federal administration (Fata) had housed fighters of Al Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The military needed more than a decade and several offensives to regain control of the region. Many extremists were displaced or killed. Millions of people became internally displaced.

According to analysts, the constitutional amendment was part of a rehabilitation plan after years of military offensives. Large areas without rights were to be eliminated, feelings of exclusion and severe poverty alleviated. Before that, some laws dating back to the colonial period had been in force, such as those that provided for clan imprisonment and prohibited political activities.

Long queues at polling stations

The fact that it was now possible to vote triggered cautious optimism among the residents. TV pictures showed long queues at polling stations. All major Pakistani parties nominated candidates. It was expected that the ruling “Movement for Justice” (Tehreek-e Insaaf/PTI) of Imran Khan would win the majority of the seats.

Candidates from the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement/PTM activist group also took part in the election. The Pashtuns feel harassed by the government and the security forces. The military maintains numerous checkpoints there, and there are curfews again and again. Most of the Taliban and their leaders are Pashtuns. (AFP)

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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