Win in troubled northwest forces Khan to make good on promises

By Issam Ahmed

Imran Khan presented himself as a charismatic leader. Photo / AP
Imran Khan presented himself as a charismatic leader. Photo / AP

In perhaps the most dramatic outcome of Pakistan's elections, Imran Khan's party has won power in the northwest, putting to the ultimate test the former cricket star's anti-US rhetoric and calls for peace talks with the Taleban.

After years of war, displacement and broken promises from religious parties and the secular Awami National Party (ANP), voters on the frontline of the Taleban insurgency rewarded Khan's untested party with the highest number of seats.

For Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which previously held only one seat, it was a staggering victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) - one of the most troubled parts of the country - and hands Khan an almost poisoned chalice of responsibility.

Early results indicate PTI has secured at least 33 seats in the 99-member KPK provincial assembly, with nearest rival Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam on 15 seats.

Bitterly opposed to US drone strikes and Pakistani offensives against Taleban fighters blamed for killing thousands of people, victory in the northwest propels PTI from the lofty ideals of opposition to the realities of government.

Many analysts believe Khan will have a rude awakening and will realise very quickly that it is not just "America's war" and that the Taleban are not people he can do business with.

"They will wake up to reality very quickly because the stance of the Taleban is such that it is absolutely not reconcilable with any government in KPK or in the federal capital," said Saifullah Khan Mahsud of the FATA Research Centre.

The ANP, which governed KPK for the past five years, was all but wiped out at the polls, sent packing by an electorate fed up with corruption and their inability to bring peace to the war-racked province.

Khan, on the other hand, presented himself as a charismatic leader. He visited repeatedly, talking to and walking among ordinary people. He promised peace and denounced the US drone strikes. It proved a heady combination.

The Taleban, who denounce democracy as un-Islamic, killed more than 150 people during the election campaign, including 24 on polling day itself.

Taleban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the insurgents would first "wait till political parties form their government in centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa" before announcing their response. But referring to PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which won the national polls, before the election he also warned that: "If they also come into conflict with Islam, then we will decide to target them."

That could present PTI with the uncomfortable prospect of having to go back on the policies that got them elected, says Umair Javed, a Pakistani columnist.


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