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 Taliban.
After years of war, displacement and broken promises from religious parties and the secular Awami National Party (ANP), voters on the frontline of the Taliban insurgency rewarded Khan’s untested party with the highest number of seats.
For Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which previously only held 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 Taliban fighters blamed for killing thousands of people, victory in the northwest propels PTI from the lofty ideals of opposition to the comfortable realities of government.
The ANP, which governed KPK for the last 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 with and walking among ordinary people. He promised peace and denounced the US drone strikes — it proved a heady combination.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the insurgents would first “wait till political parties form their government in centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” before announcing their policy
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.”