x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Taliban bombs targeting politicians' offices kill 9

The Pakistani Taliban detonated bombs at the campaign offices of two politicians in the country's north-west, killing at least nine people in an escalation of attacks on secular, left-leaning political parties.

PARACHINAR, Pakistan // The Pakistani Taliban detonated bombs at the campaign offices of two politicians in the country's north-west yesterday, police said, killing at least nine people in an escalation of attacks on secular, left-leaning political parties.

In first attack, on the outskirts of Kohat city, a bomb ripped through the office of Syed Noor Akbar, killing six and wounding 10 people, police official Mujtaba Hussain said.

A second bomb targeted a campaign office of another candidate, Nasir Khan Afridi, in the suburbs of Peshawar city. That attack killed three people and wounded 12, police official Saifur Rehman Khan said.

Both politicians, who were not in the offices at the time of the blasts, are running as independent candidates for national assembly seats to represent constituencies in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where scores of militant groups operate, including some with links to Al Qaeda. The general elections will be held on May 11.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, claimed responsibility for both attacks, as well as two others against secular political parties in the southern port city of Karachi.

"We are against all politicians who are going to become part of any secular, democratic government," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The Taliban previously announced a strategy to target three political parties, including the Awami National Party (ANP), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). All three are perceived as liberal, having earned the Taliban's ire by opposing the insurgency and extremism during their time in the outgoing government.

The onslaught has forced many of the parties to change their campaign strategy and has raised questions about whether the vote can be considered valid if some mainstream parties cannot take part properly.

In the capital, Islamabad, Pakistani officials said they planned to seal the border with Afghanistan and restrict the movement of Afghan refugees on election day.

Officials at the interior ministry and the election commission have said that the measure is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks during the vote. However, the officials did not say how they would restrict the movement of hundreds of thousands of people spread out across the country or block crossings along the porous border.

Pakistan announced similar measures in the past but failed to take action.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.

The Islamist and centre-right political parties have been spared by the Taliban and have been holding big public rallies without fear of being attacked. They largely support peace talks with the Taliban instead of military offensives.

The leaders of the political parties under Taliban attack have said the violence amounts to election rigging. But they have, so far, decided not to boycott the vote.