Twin blasts kill 28 on eve of Pakistan general election

Twin blasts kill 28 on eve of Pakistan general election
Pakistan's elections, which will take place on Thursday, have been tainted by the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
3 min read
07 February, 2024
128 million people are eligible to take part in Pakistan's general election on Thursday [Photo by Rebecca Conway/Getty Images]

At least 28 people were killed on Wednesday by two separate bomb blasts outside the offices of election candidates in southwestern Pakistan, on the eve of a national vote marred by violence and allegations of pre-poll rigging.

More than half a million security officers were deploying ahead of Thursday's election, with authorities distributing ballot papers to more than 90,000 polling stations.

There have been multiple security incidents in the run-up to the vote, with at least two candidates shot dead and dozens more targeted in attacks across the country.

"The aim of today's blasts was to sabotage the election," said Jan Achakzai, caretaker information minister for Balochistan province, where the blasts happened.

"Despite today's blasts, the election will take place tomorrow. People of Balochistan will come out tomorrow without any fear."

A first improvised explosive device (IED) blast killed 16 people near the office of an independent candidate in Pishin district, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city of Quetta and 100 kilometres from the Afghan border.

A second IED killed 12 people near the election office of a candidate for the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) party in the city of Killa Saifullah - about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east - according to Achakzai.

"The incident took place in the main bazaar of the city area, where the election office of the JUI-F was targeted," a senior police official told AFP.

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Achakzai said a total of 34 people were injured in both attacks.

In July last year, 44 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a political gathering of JUI-F in northwestern Pakistan.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's blasts, resource-rich Balochistan province - Pakistan's least populous - is home to several militant groups fighting for a bigger share of its wealth, and has also been the target of attacks by the Islamic State group.

Rise in attacks

Pakistan's election has been blemished by allegations of pre-poll rigging following a crackdown on the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, who won the 2018 poll but was booted out of power by a national assembly vote of no confidence four years later.

Campaigning officially ended on Tuesday night and voting was due to begin at 8:00 am (0300 GMT) Thursday, closing at 5:00 pm.

About 128 million of Pakistan's 240 million people are eligible to vote.

Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies, with 266 seats directly contested in the former - an additional 70 reserved for women and minorities - and 749 places in the regional parliaments.

"We must ensure security measures at every level," Sindh provincial police chief Rafat Mukhtar told a news briefing Wednesday in the port city of Karachi.

The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, said there had been a "staggering" rise in militant attacks in the past year with an average of 54 per month - the most since 2015, when the army launched a massive crackdown on militant groups.

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Whoever wins takes over a deeply divided country, observers say, with the economy in tatters.

Inflation is galloping at nearly 30 percent, the rupee has been in free fall for three years and a balance-of-payments deficit has frozen imports, severely hampering industrial growth.

Pollsters have said the election has left the population at its most "discouraged" in years.

"The political atmosphere ahead of Pakistan's first general election since 2018 is equally as glum as the economic one," the polling agency Gallup said.

"Seven in 10 Pakistanis lack confidence in the honesty of their elections. While this ties previous highs, it nevertheless represents a significant regression in recent years."