Friday, December 21, 2007

Split among mullahs weakens religious parties

Saeed Shah, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The mullahs shocked Pakistan and the rest of the world when they scooped nearly a fifth of the seats in the national parliament and formed the government of the Frontier Province. Maulana Rahman became the official leader of the opposition. Before 2002, the mullahs in Pakistan had never managed to translate their rabble-rousing into votes. But in that election, the religious parties rode on a wave of anti-Americanism stemming from the war launched in Afghanistan the previous year, taking 12% of the vote nationally. Once in power, they are alleged to have looked the other way while extremists gained in strength in the Frontier, culminating in an armed takeover of the region's Swat valley by militants this autumn - only recently reversed by deployment of the Pakistan army there. "If they [the Islamists] come to power again, you might as well forget about this province," said Mehmood Shah, a political analyst and former senior civil servant in the Frontier. "It will get Talibanized." What happens in the Frontier is no parochial issue. Hawkish commentators fear that it could break away from Pakistan, providing a haven for extremists from around the world and a base for Taliban fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

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