Pakistani women stopped from voting in Waziristan

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Women were stopped from voting in Pakistan's elections on Saturday in the northwestern tribal district of North Waziristan, a notorious Taleban stronghold, residents said.

North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous districts on the rugged border with Afghanistan which are a haven for Taleban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Tribesmen were informed through mosque loudspeakers early on Saturday that no woman would be allowed to leave home and cast a vote, according to a local resident in North Waziristan's main town of Miranshah.

In North Waziristan, many women live in purdah, confined to women-only quarters at home and prevented from leaving the premises without a male relative.

On Wednesday, pamphlets were handed out in Miranshah warning tribesmen not to let women vote in Saturday's general election, threatening punishment for those who did.

"Take our words, this kind of disgraceful act will not be tolerated and anyone influencing women to cast a vote will be punished," said the pamphlet, signed by "Mujahedeen" and thrown from vehicles into shops.

Women's turnout was weak in the most conservative, rural parts of Pakistan at the last elections in 2008, particularly the tribal belt, the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces.

Of the more than 86 million registered voters in Pakistan for Saturday's election, 37 million are women and 48 million men.

In 2008, not a single vote was cast at 564 of 28,800 women's polling stations - 55 per cent of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials said. In the most conservative areas, officials estimated women's turnout at just 10 to 15 per cent of those registered.