Pakistan poll campaign ends with suicide attack, 42 killed

February 16th, 2008 - 11:10 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
(Intro Roundup)
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, Feb 16 (IANS) At least 42 people were killed and over 100 injured in a suicide attack in northwest Pakistan’s tribal area Saturday evening, marking a bloody end to the campaign ahead of Monday’s crucial parliamentary polls - described by President Pervez Musharraf as the “mother of all elections”. “The death toll is now 42,” interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told IANS after the attack in the tribal town of Parachinar, bordering Afghanistan.

The blast took place outside the election office of an independent candidate backed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

“We have received 34 dead bodies while three injured died in hospital,” a doctor from a Parachinar hospital told IANS. There were reports that some bodies were taken away from the spot by relatives of the victims.

Some reports said it was a suicide blast, but the interior ministry declined to confirm it, saying ministry officials were analysing the situation and did not rule out involvement of Taliban elements in the blast.

The Taliban spokesman in Pakistan earlier this week sent a statement to media organizations that the organisation will not attack any election facility or gathering.

Talking to media, a security official said a suicide bomber attacked a PPP meeting outside the party office in Parachinar.

In a separate incident in the nearby Bajaur tribal area, militants blew up a polling station with a timebomb, the police said.

The campaign ahead of the delayed elections has been marked by violence, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi Dec 27.

President Musharraf has warned miscreants not to create law and order situation in the country.

To counter threats of violence and terrorism on the polling day, the government has deployed about 81,000 troops of the army throughout the country, with focus on areas that have been identified as sensitive.

“Every possible step has been taken to ensure peaceful elections,” caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan told mediapersons Saturday after briefing European Union observers on the country’s 10th general elections to the national and four provincial parliaments.

Giving a break-up, he said the government has deployed 130,000 police personnel in Punjab, 100,000 in Sindh, 50,000 in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and 25,000 in Balochistan to ensure the security around the poling stations.

He said security arrangements have also been made to provide safe and secure environment to local and foreign observers to facilitate them in pursuance of their professional duties.

More than 1,000 observers and journalists are in Pakistan to monitor the elections.

The government would take stern action against the people getting involved in any unlawful activity during polls. The Election Commission can also take action against such miscreants, he added.

He said the government has so far not received any threat regarding any suicide or bomb attacks, adding that the government was ready to counter any terrorist activity.

The election campaign in the country remained colourless mainly because of the security situation and threats of violence. More than 400 people have been killed in several suicide attacks and bomb blasts in the run-up to the elections.

The three major political parties, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bhutto, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and its breakaway faction PML-Quaid (PML-Q) which was ruling till recently, have run massive campaigns in the media with huge advertisements in newspapers and television channels.

Despite the Bhutto’s murder, the PPP was predicted to sweep its traditional stronghold of Sindh, the second-largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, it said.

More than 80 million people are eligible to cast their votes in the polls, the 10th general elections since formation of the country in 1947. The polls are being held under tight security with the army out to help the law enforcing agencies to ensure peaceful polling.

The fear of violence, especially in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, kept people away from public rallies and campaigning remained lacklustre with few gatherings compared to previous elections.

Election analysts are expecting less than 30 percent turnout due to the security concerns and the outdated election lists.

Of the 64,176 polling stations, 620 have been declared sensitive by the provincial governments.

The Election Commission Saturday gave final touches to the arrangements. “Election material has been transported to all polling stations and everything is fine,” said Secretary, Election Commission, Kanwar M. Dilshad.

The National Assembly (NA) or the lower house has 342 seats, of which 272 members are elected directly and 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims that are divided among the winning parties on proportional representation. However, women and non-Muslims are eligible to contest in the general elections as well.

Monday’s election will be held for 268 NA seats as polling on four seats has been postponed. In three NA and eight provincial assembly constituencies polling was put off due to the death of contesting candidates, including in Bhutto’s constituency Larkana. Election in the South Waziristan Agency in the tribal areas has been cancelled because of the security situation.

More than 2,300 candidates are vying for the 268 NA seats while more than 4,200 are contesting for the 730 seats in the four provincial assemblies.

For the first time in the country’s history, 180 women are contesting for the parliament while nine non-Muslims are also standing in the direct elections.

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