x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Gunmen kidnap son of former Pakistan PM on eve of elections

Attackers in cars and on motorbikes kill two of Ali Haider Gilani's aides and bundle him away on last day of campaign before elections. Taimur Khan reports from Karachi

Ali Haider Gilani, (left), an election candidate and the son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, with supporters just prior to his abduction.
Ali Haider Gilani, (left), an election candidate and the son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, with supporters just prior to his abduction.

KARACHI // Gunmen kidnapped the son of a former Pakistani prime minister yesterday after opening fire at a campaign rally for tomorrow's national elections.

Ali Haider Gilani, the youngest son of former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, was campaigning for a provincial assembly seat in the southern Punjab city of Multan. Gunmen in two cars and motorcycles opened fire, killing Mr Gilani's secretary and a guard, before bundling him into a car, police said.

He was wounded in the shooting, a witness told the Express Tribune.

"His two guards were shielding him and they died," Yousuf Raza Gilani said. "I urge all of my party supporters to remain peaceful and participate in the vote."

It was the latest violent incident in the lead-up to an election the Pakistani Taliban has vowed to undermine with suicide attacks.

The outgoing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) campaign has been nearly invisible, partly because of the Taliban, who have been targeting the three major secular parties.

But in recent days a mainstream Islamist party has also been attacked by Taliban suicide bombers.

More than 100 people have been killed in gun and bomb attacks on rallies and election offices over past month of campaigning, the bloodiest in the country's history.

Two of Mr Gilani's brothers are candidates for national assembly seats in Multan. The family are stalwarts of the PPP.

Officials from the PPP, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have complained the election commission's restrictions on private security during campaigning have left them vulnerable to attack and skewed the election in favour of their rivals.

The commission has also refused to provide them with independent security.

"We were screaming that we need security for our candidates. We were saying that we have received threats, but no one heard our pleas and we did not get security," PPP spokeswoman Sharmila Farouqi said.

"Now see what has happened. The son of a former prime minister has been kidnapped."

In a message to the Pakistani Taliban's main spokesman, the group's leader Hakimullah Mehsud said it would attack polling stations across the country.

"We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy," Mr Mehsud wrote.

No group has taken responsibility for Mr Gilani's kidnapping. Witnesses told the Tribune the kidnappers all had long beards.

Southern Punjab is not known as a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, but it has many anti-Shia sectarian groups allied with the Taliban including the extremely violent Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

The parties that have been targeted by the Taliban have been unable to conduct the large public rallies and canvassing that is crucial for getting the vote in Pakistan.

Instead, they have relied on television advertisements and phone calls and text messages to constituents.

Yesterday was the last day of campaigning and in one neighbourhood of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, small processions of cars and lorries with public address systems blared music and speeches in support of Imran Khan's Movement for Justice party, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Both parties have little chance of picking up any seats in the city, and the absence of the parties that dominate Karachi's politics was conspicuous.

The two centre-right Punjab-based parties have not been attacked by the Pakistani Taliban, and both have said they support negotiations with the group to bring an end to its war with the Pakistan military.

Mr Khan has said that if elected, his party would support shooting down the United States drones that target the Taliban.

It is not clear how much the Taliban will deter voters, but the military repeated yesterday that it would deploy tens of thousands of troops to polling stations to guard against terrorists.

Army spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said that in Punjab alone, 300,000 security forces, including 32,000 soldiers, had been deployed.


* Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters

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