Can't connect right now! retry
Tuesday Jul 24 2018

Another election, another bloody campaign trail

A view of the aftermath of the suicide attack on ANP's Haroon Bilour. Photo: AFP 

Sardar Ikramullah Gandapur, a former provincial minister, was the third election candidate in Pakistan to lose his life within two weeks when a suicide bomber targeted his vehicle in the southern Dera Ismail Khan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on July 22.

Earlier on July 10, the Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bashir Bilour was martyred in a terrorist attack on an election meeting in the congested Yakatoot locality in Peshawar. The suicide bombing killed 21 persons, mostly ANP workers and supporters.

The third candidate to lose his life was Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, a vocal pro-Pakistan politician contesting on the ticket of the newly-formed Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) from Mastung, where Baloch separatists and sectarian terrorists have a strong presence. The suicide bomber struck at an election gathering in Darengarh village martyring over 149, including nine minors, and causing injuries to another 186.

It was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan, nearly equal in scale to the 2007 bombing of Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming convoy in Karachi’s Karsaz area, which left 160 dead, and the assault on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, in which 147 persons, including 130 schoolchildren, were martyred.

The death toll in the run-up to the 2018 election has already overtaken the figures of 2013, when Pakistan held its previous five-yearly polls. More than 176 people have died in July alone, compared to the attacks during the May 2013 election campaign which left 171 dead, even though the threat posed by the militants was still high in the previous polls. 

The subsequent Zarb-e-Azb military operation launched in North Waziristan against the local and foreign militants in June 2014 dealt a decisive blow to the terrorist groups and resulted in a significant drop in acts of violence. The follow-up Raddul Fasad operation undertaken by the military and focusing on tackling urban terrorism and tracking down the facilitators of terrorists resulted in further improvement in the security situation.

In fact, the security situation had improved to such an extent that the election campaign in 2018 began prematurely and the political parties confidently organised big public meetings. The candidates moved freely in their constituencies even in KP and Balochistan, the so-called ‘frontline’ provinces in the war against terrorism. (Both provinces have suffered the majority of the attacks in the 2018 election campaign).

Gandapur was the first candidate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to die in an act of violence while conducting hustings. Before him, another PTI candidate Malik Aurangzeb Khan survived when his election meeting in Razmak, North Waziristan, was attacked with hand-grenades and some of his supporters were injured.

The attack on Gandapur showed that no political party or candidate was safe because until then opponents of the PTI were raising questions as to why the Imran Khan-led party wasn’t facing attacks from militants. In their view, the PTI was being spared because Imran Khan had a soft corner for the Taliban.

The MMA, an alliance of five religio-political parties revived for contesting the July 2018 polls, has been facing similar accusations, but one of its leaders, Akram Khan Durrani, has been attacked twice while campaigning in his hometown, Bannu. 

Durrani, a former chief minister who also served as a federal minister in the previous PML-N-led federal government, is contesting against Imran Khan for the lone National Assembly seat from Bannu. Moreover, Malik Shireen, an MMA candidate for the provincial assembly in Bannu, too survived a terrorist attack targeting his vehicle.

To-date, the candidates and election rallies of the ANP, BAP, PTI and MMA have been attacked. Apart from the horrendous bombing of its election meeting in Mastung, the BAP also faced an attack on its electoral office in Dalbandin in Balochistan causing injuries to its 20 workers and supporters. Those not yet targetted have not been spared due to any sympathy for militants. The reason could be lack of an opportunity for the terrorists to strike at a place and time of their choosing.

Before Gandapur, his younger brother Israrullah Gandapur was martyred in a suicide bombing on the day of Eid in 2013. The tragic death of the two brothers, sons of late chief minister Sardar Inayatullah Gandapur, was painful as the family has a record of serving the people and standing up to the terrorists in their native, militancy-hit Dera Ismail Khan district located close to the volatile tribal district of South Waziristan.

Like the Gandapurs, Peshawar’s Bilour family too has suffered immense pain due to terrorist attacks. Haroon Bilour’s father, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, lost his life in a terrorist attack in Peshawar in December 2012 when he was a senior minister in the ANP-PPP coalition government in KP. The Bilours earned the ire of the militants by challenging their narrative and refusing to submit to their orders.

The militants had no chance to disrupt the 2018 general election after having failed to do so in 2008 and 2013 when they were at the peak of their power and were even in control of some territory in the erstwhile Fata and Malakand division in KP. However, they didn’t want to miss this opportunity to strike at Pakistan when scores of soft targets were available due to the open election campaigning by candidates.

The two major attacks were claimed by the Afghanistan-based Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which recently lost its chief, Mullah Fazlullah, in a US drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province and is now led by his successor, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud. The claim of responsibility for the Mastung attack was made by Daesh. As for the failed assassination bid on Akram Durrani, it was owned by the little known Ittehadul Mujahideen militant group.

The terrorist attacks certainly caused concern and prompted the government and the parties to reinforce the security of the candidates, but the election campaign continued and the polling is now within sight.

Yusufzai is the Resident Editor of The News International in Peshawar

Note: The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.