Terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s troubled election campaign killed at least 132 people, including a candidate, on Friday just before the arrest of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif upon his return to the country, Associated Press reported.
In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a suicide bomber killed 128 people, including a politician running for a provincial legislature. Four others died in a strike in Pakistan’s northwest, spreading panic, according to AP.
The elections are scheduled for 25 July.
Yesterday’s attacks were the deadliest since Taliban militants assaulted a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014, killing over 150 people, mostly children, Agence France Press reported.
In the southern town of Mastung, candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 others died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement carried on its Aamaq news agency. The group gave no reason for the bombing that killed Raisani, who was running for the election on the Baluchistan Awami Party ticket.
Raisani is the brother of the former Baluchistan chief minister, Aslam Raisani. Caretaker Home Minister Agha Umar Bungalzai told AP that another 300 people were wounded in Friday’s bombing.
Sharif returns to Pakistan – and jail cell
The attacks came hours before Sharif returned from London, where he was visiting his ailing wife, with his daughter Maryam. He faces a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, related to luxury real estate purchases in London; she faces seven years in jail. In a video message Friday, apparently sent mid-flight, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.
Ahead of his return, police had swept through the city of Lahore, arresting scores of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport. Though Sharif was taken into custody to serve his sentence, he is expected to appeal and seek bail. It wasn’t clear when his appeal would be filed but he has until Monday.
Sharif has been banned from politics. His brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League, and is campaigning for re-election on July 25.
Army under fire
Sharif has criticized the powerful military’s involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists. Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in Pakistani politics by keeping Sharif out of power.
Pundits called for the armed forces to focus on security challenges rather than politics, in the wake of myriad allegations that the military was meddling in the upcoming polls. “It has never been more true that Pakistan’s security establishment needs to focus on security, not politics,” tweeted analyst Mosharraf Zaidi, according to AFP.
The military denied the accusations, saying their assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan’s Election Commission, AP reported. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel to polling stations throughout the country on election day.