Pakistan election campaign heats up
Pakistan’s political parties organised huge rallies on Sunday but campaigning for historic general elections in May was marred by a bomb attack which killed two people in the country’s northwest.
The Pakistani Taliban have issued threats against the three main secular parties that made up the outgoing government and who backed army operations against the Islamist militants.
But that did not deter politicians from holding processions on Sunday to attract voters on May 11, an election which stands to mark the country’s first democratic transition to power.
A roadside bomb attack killed two and injured six others including a candidate in the town of Bannu, marring an election rally by the liberal Awami National Party, which has borne the brunt of Taliban attacks in the restive northwest.
Elsewhere in the region, ex-cricketer Imran Khan, who heads the Movement for Justice party, drew an impressive crowd in Mingora, home to teenage rights activist Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Taliban last October.
“It is a matter of only six weeks, prepare yourselves for elections, we will establish a new Pakistan,” Khan told his supporters, while vowing to bring peace to the troubled border areas where Islamists have in recent years waged an insurgency.
Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Authorities in the eastern city of Lahore meanwhile shut down mobile phone networks as a security precaution ahead of a huge rally organised by Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) headed by cleric Fazlur Rehman.
Despite their pro-militant views, Pakistan’s Islamist parties have also come under attack by the Taliban who reject democracy and seek to govern the country according to their brand of Sharia law.
In the port city of Karachi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party which dominates the metropolis of 21 million people also organised a public rally, as did the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Islamic party.
Last week, the frontrunner in Pakistan’s election race, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, attracted tens of thousands to a rally in northwestern town of Mansehra where he promised development and economic success.
Pakistani media reported hundreds of candidates and their supporters were seen gathering outside election commission offices across the country after authorities extended a deadline for the submission of nomination papers to midnight.