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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Taliban suicide bomber kills Pakistan election candidate three days before polls

Ikramullah Gandapur was campaigning in Dera Ismail Khan when his SUV was attacked

A man who was injured in a suicide bomb attack that targeted Ikram Gandapur, a candidate of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, for general elections, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, 22 July 2018. EPA
A man who was injured in a suicide bomb attack that targeted Ikram Gandapur, a candidate of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, for general elections, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, 22 July 2018. EPA

A candidate from the opposition party of Pakistan prime ministerial hopeful and former cricket star Imran Khan was killed on Sunday in a suicide attack that wounded four others, a police official said, while a top candidate for the ruling party was jailed just days before Wednesday's general elections.

The attack in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa follows a series of bombings at political rallies before the election, the most devastating of which was a suicide attack this month that killed 149 people in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

Sunday's attack targeted the vehicle of Ikramullah Gandapur, a candidate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Justice Movement, after he was leaving a political meeting, two police officials told Reuters.

He was campaigning for the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly in the city of Dera Ismail Khan when the bomber detonated near his Land Cruiser.

"Ikramullah Gandapur has been killed and we are conducting a post-mortem," said police official Zahoor Afridi, adding that 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of explosives had been used in the attack.

Rescue workers move the body of Ikramullah Gandapur, who was killed in the suicide bombing in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday, July 22. AP Photo
Rescue workers move the body of Ikramullah Gandapur, who was killed in the suicide bombing in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday, July 22. AP Photo

Mr Gandapur had been informed about serious threats to his life and been provided with 11 policemen, but he did not inform the police about his political meeting on Sunday, Afridi said.

Two policemen who were with Gandapur were among the injured.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the militant group said.

Video images from the scene showed three bleeding and unconscious passengers inside a badly damaged black sports utility vehicle.

In 2013, Mr Gandapur's brother, Israrullah, who was then the provincial law minister, was killed in a suicide attack on his home.

There are two main contenders among the dozens of parties in the election fray: PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which aims to win a second term despite the jailing of its founder, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, for graft.

A candidate for Mr Sharif’s party was jailed for life on Saturday by an anti-narcotics court, just days before the vote.

Hanif Abbasi, seen as a strong candidate for PML-N in Wednesday's poll, was sentenced in a rare late-night session Saturday.

The six-year-old case was related to the supply of ephedrine to a drug smuggler.

Critics have long accused Pakistan's powerful military, including its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, of meddling in politics and judicial affairs, a charge it denies.

Nawaz Sharif himself has accused the generals of targeting his party, including intimidating his candidates to switch allegiances – particularly in Punjab province.

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Read more:

Editorial: Stability is crucial before Pakistan election

Pakistanis mourn after election rally bombing kills 128

Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan to face jail before elections

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Earlier Saturday an Islamabad High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, publicly accused the ISI of manipulating judicial decisions.

"ISI is fully involved in manipulating judicial process. ISI people get their choice of benches formed in the courts, cases are marked," he told lawyers in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The political involvement of the military and ISI is rarely discussed openly due to fear of repercussions. Rights defenders have long accused the ISI of kidnapping and torturing rights activists, journalists and dissenting voices.

Journalists in Pakistan say they have come under unprecedented pressure from the authorities before the election.

Nearly 106 million Pakistanis, including more than 19 million new voters, will be eligible to cast their ballots on Wednesday.

The military has warned of threats before the polls, and will put more than 370,000 soldiers on the streets on election day.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which took power in 2013, hopes for a new mandate under leader Shahbaz Sharif, a brother of the ousted Nawaz.

Its biggest challenger is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former national cricket captain Khan.

Former Pakistani cricket stars have come out in support of the cricketer-turned-politician as the country prepares to go to the polls.

"It was in your leadership skip @ImrankhanPTI that we became world champions in 1992. It is in your leadership that we can again become a great democratic country," tweeted Wasim Akram.

"You have got what it takes Skipper @ImranKhanPTI but it will take everything you have... No one can doubt your Honesty and thats what is require in our country...An honest LEADER," tweeted former captain Waqar Younis.

BehindYouSkipper became one of the country's top trending hashtags as celebrities and former cricketers came to Khan's support.

The Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – son of murdered premier Benazir Bhutto – could become kingmaker by forming a coalition with one of its rivals.