After years of turmoil and conflict fuelled by militancy raging through the northwestern region, the political mainstream in Pakistan witnessed the very first involvement of tribal areas in provincial elections on Saturday, AFP reported.
Amid high security, the polling kicked off at 8am in 16 tribal districts and concluded at 5pm on Saturday, with Pakistani Army personnel and polling staff deployed at 554 highly sensitive polling stations to ensure holding of the election in a peaceful and transparent manner, according to AryNews Network.tv
The seven tribal districts, including Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, North Waziristan, Orakzai and South Waziristan, are home to some five million residents, mainly ethnic Pashtuns. They were previously only allowed to elect representatives for the National Assembly in Islamabad.
Moreover, the seven remote districts along the border with Afghanistan were once focal points in the global war on terror, but they were brought under the control of Pakistani authorities after the passage of legislation last year. The legislation subsequently extended the writ of Pakistani courts to the area, with hopes that it would bring development assistance to the region which Washington has long insisted provides safe havens to militants including the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This is an allegation that Islamabad denies, according to AFP.
Security, however, has improved in the region in recent years, with the Pakistani military carrying out multiple operations there. However, lower-level attacks still occur, and the area remains notorious for the availability of cheap guns, drugs, and smuggled goods.