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Pakistan: Army-controlled Islamabad on edge as Thursday’s NS polls loom amid terror strikes

Pakistan: Army-controlled Islamabad on edge as Thursday’s NS polls loom amid terror strikes

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Virendra Pandit 

 

New Delhi: Reaping in the country what it has sown outside for decades, Pakistan, which faced a spate of terror attacks on Monday, was on edge as it limped towards the crucial National Assembly elections on February 8 amid fears of more strikes at a time the restive South Asian country facing an existential crisis.

Three-time Prime Minister Mohammed Nawaz Sharif is running for a fourth term, heading his Army-supported outfit Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, against the military’s friend-turned-foe former premier Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi’s  Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Khan is behind bars and his party is almost non-existent but his candidates are contesting as independents.

A surge in attacks on Monday targeting contesting candidates and offices of the Election Commission in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, occurring just 48 hours before the General Elections, has prompted increased deployment of security forces in the troubled areas, the media reported on Tuesday.

Since Sunday night, election-related violence has claimed at least seven lives in Karachi, Nushki, and Sibi.

In Sibi, terrorists hit an election rally of a PTI candidate in which four people died and six were injured. In another incident, candidates of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) were shot at and hand grenades thrown at their homes injuring at least three of them seriously.

In Karachi a clash was reported between PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) workers on Monday night, leading to the death of a 12-year-old boy.

Police officials said since Sunday, some 40 attacks or blasts were carried out with hand grenades and weapons on election camp offices of candidates in 10 districts of Baluchistan.

“The most affected areas in Baluchistan include Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Sibi, Surab, and Quetta,” a police official said.

In the majority of the cases, the election offices and houses of candidates belonging to the PPP, BN-Mengal, National Party, and BNP-Awami have been targeted. Most of the nationalist parties in Baluchistan are contesting the elections without any alliance with any mainstream political party.

Police officials in Karachi said PPP candidate Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah was ambushed by armed men and his vehicle peppered with bullets in Mirpurkhas in Sindh leaving him seriously wounded and one of his guards was killed on Monday evening.

On Monday night, again, unidentified men on motorcycles threw six hand grenades at the election office of PPP candidate Mir Ali Hasan Zehri in Hub town bordering Karachi.

“Three children were injured in the attack. Zehri was not present,” police officer Sohrab Khan said.

Three blasts occurred in the Kharan area of Baluchistan, where unknown armed men targeted school buildings to be used for polling. Several school buildings, including a girls’ school, were damaged in the grenade attacks on Monday.

In Panjgur, armed men opened fire and threw grenades at the residence of Mir Asad Baloch, the President of the Baluchistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A). Security guards returned fire, causing the attackers to flee from the site.

The house of Sabir Baloch, ex-deputy chairman of the Senate and candidate for the National Assembly from Turbat-Panjgur, was also attacked when armed men opened fire at his residence.

Unidentified persons on motorcycles also used hand grenades to attack parties’ poll offices and poll panel offices in Nushki and other areas of Makran in the restive Baluchistan province on Monday.

Militants were active in the Kharan area where the election offices of a National Assembly candidate, Sardar Changez Khan Sasoli, were attacked twice with hand grenades.

In Turbat and Tump towns, unknown attackers opened fire on the house of PPP leader Barkat Baloch while a hand grenade was hurled at the house of PPP provincial assembly candidate Mir Agha Rind in the same area.

 

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