PESHAWAR: A fresh wave of terrorism in the province, as well as in other parts of the country, has revived memories of the 2013 general elections when militants targeted candidates. In turn, it has forced parties and candidates to lower the profile of their campaigning, it not stopping them completely, ahead of this month’s elections.
The fears returned last week when a suicide bomber targeted a corner meeting by the PK-78 candidate and Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haroon Bilour. Bilour, along with 20 others, perished in the deadly attack claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
It was followed by an attack on Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate Akram Khan Durrani as he led a political rally in Bannu. While Durrani survived, at least four people were killed in the attack.
A spokesperson for a candidate and an independent candidate for PK-93 have also come under attack in the province. Following the attacks, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cancelled his Peshawar rally. Following a deadly attack on an election rally in Mastung which left over 130 people dead, the PPP supremo called off his Malakand rally.
Similarly Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) had ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) for five years and is seeking a return to its power corridors, also cancelled their rally in Peshawar for fears of similar attacks. Imran had earlier called off a planned trip to the troubled tribal area of Parachinar.
Sikandar Sherpao, the provincial chief of Quami Watan Party (QWP), told The Express Tribune that it was obvious that after the recent attacks, election campaigns had faced some disruption with everyone was fearing for his own security.
“No, electioneering is not completely disrupted, but we are heading towards that stage,” he warned, adding that it was the responsibility of the interim provincial government to provide every candidate with a level playing field and complete security so that they could reach their voters.
“We have not been provided with any security so far but police and government contacted us,” he explained.
“The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the police should formulate a strategy for the elections and candidates, but I don’t see the necessary steps being taken,” he complained.
PPP Provincial Spokesperson Robina Khalid told The Express Tribune that the security situation in the province was not good as she explained the cancelled rallies in Peshawar and Malakand.
“We had strong reservations [on security] from the first day,” Khalid said, adding, “When we decided to hold a public rally in Peshawar, we wanted it to be [held] in Tehmash Khan football stadium due to security concerns, but we were told that the ECP code of conduct did not allow it and were assigned Patang Chowk for the rally on Ring Road,” she said.
She echoed complains of Sherpao that their candidates do not have police security.
ANP Provincial General Secretary Sardar Hussain Babak said that security for their party had been withdrawn even before the Chief Justice of Pakistan ordered it so.
“Haroon too was without police security and was using his own personal guards,” Babak said, adding that after the attack, police officials had contacted them about arrangements but they still do not have any security.
Despite the fatal attack on their PK-78 candidate, Babak said that they were still going ahead with their election campaign.
“It is the responsibility of the ECP to provide a level field to all candidates,” the ANP leader said, adding, “In 2013, our candidates were attacked and killed and a media trial was initiated against us and the ECP did nothing.”
Additional IGP Muhammad Ali Babakhel, though, refuted reports of disruption to election activities.
“Election activities are going on. We do provide security to corner meetings and public meetings,” he maintained.
“The under-threat politicians are covered and there are provincial threat assessment and divisional and district level committees and in K-P, these committees are quite organised,” he claimed.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2018.
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