The rally where the bomb went off was organised by the Awami National Party, (ANP) which is strong in the North West Frontier Province. A secular group, it looks for support among the Pashtoun tribals of the area and competes against Islamist coteries. (Ironically, the bomb went off during the ritual recitation of verses from the Koran).
It’s going to be ugly. Not just in the NWFP, but also in the relatively poor Province of Balochistan, where militancy is rife too. However, this is not so simple an issue as hardliner versus secular. This is just as much about rising prices, poverty, the lack of autonomy felt at local level and a paucity of opportunity; home-grown problems which have festered over years. We could be witnessing the rise of civil war in the NWFP and its neighbouring Southern Province.
Well-known religious right party Jamat-i-Islami usually active in these areas is boycotting the election, while another very important religious group, the Jamiatul Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) is not, and is expected to go head to head against the ANP in the NWFP.
Although the three parties mentioned above are some of the lead actors in the election arena, there are over 40 parties listed (some are factions of each other). This can get confusing if you can’t read (and even if you can), so to make it simple for illiterates, the Electoral Commission has provided a recognisable symbol list for voters. Party campaigners make sure their emblems are highly visible, especially among villagers, manual workers and labourers who toil hard in the fields. Yet one of the symbols is a desk planner…