Pakistan election: Two blasts kill 27 in Balochistan day before vote

Connie Queline

Pakistan election: Two blasts kill 27 in Balochistan day before vote

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Two bomb explosions near candidates’ offices in the Pakistani province of Balochistan killed at least 27 people and wounded dozens on the eve of general elections, officials said.

The first blast killed 18 people in Pishin district north of Quetta city.

A second explosion left nine people dead in Qila Saifullah, about 150km (93 miles) to the east.

The vote has been marred by violence and claims of poll-rigging. Former PM Imran Khan is barred from contesting.

Police are still trying to determine the cause of the two blasts.

Resource-rich Balochistan – Pakistan’s largest, and poorest, province – has a history of violence. It has seen a decades-long struggle for greater autonomy by various groups, some of them armed. Islamist militants, including the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), operate along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

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No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in front of an independent candidate’s party office in Pishin, a town about 100km (62 miles) south-east of the Afghan border. The provincial authorities said 25 people were also wounded.

Images on social media showed cars and motorbikes blown apart by the force of the explosion. Officials told the BBC the candidate was meeting his polling agent at the time.

Details of the second blast are still emerging. A senior police official told AFP news agency it took place in Qila Saifullah’s main bazaar, targeting the election office of the JUI-F party.

There have been violent incidents in both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in the week before Thursday’s vote, and the violence in Pishin and Qila Saifullah was not unexpected.

In mid-January, insurgent group Baloch Liberation Army-Azad (BLA) released a pamphlet after claiming responsibility for bombing an election training office. The pamphlet urged people to boycott the elections. Soon after, reports of hand grenade attacks on political party offices were reported from various cities in the province.

Many voters in Balochistan feel neglected by the country’s political parties, given the province has so few seats in parliament. They often feel candidates are foisted on them, with few if any links to Balochistan.

And many feel the vote is unfair. “It is a selection,” numerous voters told BBC Urdu in the city of Turbat last month.

Imran Khan

Getty Images

Following Wednesday’s attacks, the Balochistan government said Thursday’s vote would proceed as planned.

“Rest assured, we will not allow terrorists to undermine or sabotage this crucial democratic process,” provincial information minister Jan Achakzai posted on X, formerly Twitter.

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More than 128 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the election. In Pakistan’s first-past-the-system, 266 National Assembly seats are directly elected.

Many are questioning the credibility of the election as Khan and his party, the PTI, have been sidelined.

PTI won the largest number of seats in the last general election but Khan was jailed on corruption charges last year and disqualified from running for public office. Since last week he has been convicted in three other cases and faces years behind bars – he says all the charges are politically motivated.

The authorities deny carrying out a crackdown, but many PTI leaders are behind bars, in hiding or have defected.

Thousands of the party’s supporters were rounded up after protests – at times violent – when Khan was taken into custody last year.

Nawaz Sharif addresses a public gathering during an election campaign in Lahore, Pakistan on 29 January 2024

EPA

PTI candidates are having to run as independents following the electoral commission’s decision to strip the party of its cricket bat symbol. Electoral symbols are vital in helping voters mark their ballots in a country with high rates of illiteracy.

The man tipped to win Thursday’s election is three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif, who himself was behind bars at the last election. Analysts say it appears he has done a deal with the military to facilitate his return to politics.

A high turnout will be key to how the PTI fares, many analysts say. Results must be announced within 14 days of the vote.

Additional reporting by Caroline Davies

Related Topics

  • Pakistan
  • Imran Khan

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