Bombings in Pakistan kill at least 29 ahead of election day

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Rescue workers transport a victim from Qillah Saifullah district’s bomb blast, upon arrival at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Wednesday, Feb. 7. (AP)

QUETTA, Pakistan, Feb 7: Bombs ripped through two separate political offices in southwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 29 people and wounding more than two dozen, officials said, the day before the country was set to elect a new parliament.

The attacks in Baluchistan province — home to a low-level insurgency and various militant groups — raised concerns for the election in the troubled Western ally, where many voters are already disillusioned by political feuding and a seemingly intractable economic crisis. 

Violence ahead of elections and on the day of polling is common in Pakistan, which has struggled to rein in various militant groups. Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces have been deployed across the country following a recent surge in attacks, especially in Baluchistan. No one immediately claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombings.

At least 17 people were killed in the first attack at independent candidate Asfandyar Khan’s election office in the Pashin district, said Jan Achakzai, the spokesperson for the provincial government. More than 20 were wounded, and police said some were in critical condition.

Shortly after, another bombing killed at least 12 people at the office of a leading radical Islamist party in Qilla Saifullah, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) away, Acahkzai and local authorities said. At least eight people were wounded.

The leaders of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, which has close ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban, have been attacked by the Islamic State group and other militants in recent years. Party president Fazlur Rehman and scores of candidates from the party are contesting the elections throughout the country.

Baluchistan, a gas-rich province on the border with Afghanistan and Iran, has been the scene of an insurgency for more than two decades by Baluch nationalists who are seeking independence.

The nationalists typically attack security forces — not civilian or political targets in the province. The outlawed Baluchistan Liberation Army has been behind multiple attacks on security forces, including one on Jan. 30 that killed six people.

The Pakistani Taliban, along with other militant groups, also have a strong presence in Baluchistan and have targeted civilians in recent years, though the Pakistani Taliban pledged not to attack election rallies ahead of the vote.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar denounced the bombings and conveyed his condolences to the families of those who died. He vowed that “every attempt to sabotage the law and order situation will be thwarted” and said the government is committed to holding elections Thursday in peace.

Achakzai, the provincial government spokesperson, announced a three-day mourning period but emphasized that “the elections will take place on Thursday as per the schedule, and we urge people to exercise their right to vote to defeat those who wanted a delay in the elections.”

In 2007, Pakistan’s two-time prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a gun and bomb attack, minutes after she addressed an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Her son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has led the campaign for her Pakistan People’s Party amid tight security.

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