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Islamic stronghold in Pakistan goes secular

Residents in the northwest signaled their frustration with Islamic parties' poor governance.

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Yet as a party founded on the principles of nonviolence, they are likely to use what influence they have against the military solutions supported by the US. "On a case-by-case basis, we will be talking to [the Taliban] to bring peace," says Mr. Afridi. "We want peace in FATA because we are the same people [Pashtuns] – and if there is no peace there, there is no peace here."

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The notion of negotiation is ingrained in the Pashtun mind – a legacy of the jirgas, or councils, that have ruled Pashtun tribes for centuries – and it has great popular support here. The MMA's mullahs ran afoul of public opinion by abandoning such principles, residents say.

Sweeping to power in 2002 on a wave of anti-American sentiment after the invasion of Afghanistan, they were not sincere in their efforts to infuse politics with the tenets of Islam, residents say. One perception is that they used politics to get rich.

In 2002, "they used to go out canvassing on bicycles," says Ali Jan, pushing his shopping cart through the aisles of a Peshawar supermarket. "Now, they're driving around in Land Cruisers."

"They are hypocrites," adds Gul Khan, pausing for tea on the other side of town.

To him and others, Monday was a victory for Islam – driving corrupt mullahs from power in favor of a party that truly intends to help the people, it is hoped.

"[ANP] is not a religious party, but it is not the enemy of religion," says Lal Shah, while having a shave at a local barber shop. "I like the people whose job it is not to hate America or to hate Russia or to hate China, but to help Pakistan."

It is this sentiment that is at the heart of residents' desire for Islamic law in politics. To many Pakistanis, that would represent an infusion of Islamic values and justice in a government in dire need of both.

"We want real sharia rule, not the kind that the Taliban would try to enforce," says Akbar. "If sharia were enforced, there would be no corruption, no obscenity, no adultery, there would be no unbalanced economy between the rich and poor."

Not having seen this in their secular governments so far, they have put their hope in sharia as a means to elevate politics. "The people want social justice, and they want access to justice," says Bushra Gohar of the ANP, who will take one of the seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. "But it has to be for all."

The challenge, she says, is for the new secular government to prove they can do that without imposing religious codes. With 33 seats in the provincial parliament – 16 more than the nearest competitor, the Pakistan People's Party – ANP has that opportunity, and, for the moment, the trust of the people.

Says Haji Khalil Khan, sitting beside Mr. Akbar as horse carts clatter by: "I voted for ANP because they are concerned about the community."

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