December 23, 2007

You Mean Shredding Muslims At Eid Didn't Win Hearts?

Pakistan's mainstream opposition parties have tremendous popular support but claim persecution will prevent them from winning seats in next month's legislative elections. Islamist parties will find their failure comes from voter disgust, especially in the North West Frontier Province. The Washington Post reports that five years after winning control of the provincial government, the Islamists have proven completely inept at running anything but a suicidal jihad:

Fed up both with Pakistan's military-led government and with the mainstream, secular opposition, Hussein decided that religious leaders should be given a chance to improve living conditions in this sprawling frontier city.

But five years after support from people like Hussein propelled the Islamic parties to power in the provincial government -- and to their strongest-ever showing nationally -- the 36-year-old shopkeeper is rethinking his choice.

"You can see the sanitation system here," Hussein said, pointing with disgust to a ditch in front of his shop where a stream of greenish-brown sludge trickled by. "People were asking for clean water, and they didn't get it. We were very hopeful. But the mullahs did nothing for us." ...

Beset by bitter internal divisions, they have failed to come up with a unified campaign strategy. Their candidates, meanwhile, have to answer for a dubious record in governing North-West Frontier Province, their traditional base of support. And out on the stump, they are finding that anti-American sentiments are not quite as raw as they once were.

I wonder why that might be. Despite all of the rhetoric about how America and the West have conducted a Crusade against the Muslims, Pakistanis may have finally noticed that the only people putting Muslims through blenders at Eid are al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They may consider that the radical Islamists in Waziristan and NWFP spend most of their time terrorizing Iraqis and Afghans -- and Pakistanis.

If Islamist rule had produced a paradise in NWFP, they may have forgiven the tactics. Clearly, that has not happened. They have allowed the rebels to make life a misery in these provinces and given nothing back in education or infrastructure in return. The people in the region have either rejected the notion of shari'a-based government, or want to impose it by force outside of the ballot box. In either case, the Islamists face a potentially embarrassing loss in the upcoming elections.

What will that mean? It will probably force the hand of the Taliban and AQ. A loss to secular leadership threatens the safe havens they have created for themselves. They will step up attacks on the voting process and increase tactics intended to intimidate residents into either voting for the Islamists or staying away from the polls. Expect to see a sharp increase in violence over the next two weeks.


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