Pro-Taliban parties faring well in election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A coalition of pro-Taliban religious parties swept the frontier provincial legislature near the Afghan border, in the first solid results Friday in Pakistan's election.

Campaigning on a strong anti-American platform, that called for an end to Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan, the coalition of six hard-line parties had a clear majority in Pakistan's North West Province legislature, the election commission said.

For the first time since a 1999 coup, Pakistanis voted Thursday in elections the military government hailed as a historic return to democratic rule and the opposition denounced as a stage-managed sleight of hand to mask President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's firm grip on power.

Sporadic violence Thursday left seven people dead, a bloody but common dose of Pakistan's rough-and-tumble politics. Turnout was projected to be low, hurt in part by a series of decrees that kept the country's best-known political players on the sideline, and by self-declared constitutional changes that assured Musharraf ultimate control of Pakistan's fate.

Musharraf -- an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism -- has created a military-controlled National Security Council that will make all national policy decisions. He has also granted himself the power to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament, rendering the vote little more than window-dressing for continued military rule.

The religious parties were also doing better than expected in the southern port city of Karachi and in the southern part of Punjab province.

amid a strong undercurrent of resentment over the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, the race appeared close, in line with pre-election opinion polls.