Pair of bombings at election offices kill 24 in Pakistan the day before elections

AFP , AP , Wednesday 7 Feb 2024

A pair of bombings at the election offices of a political party and an independent candidate in southwest Pakistan killed at least 24 people and wounded more than two dozen others, officials said Wednesday, the day before parliamentary elections are to be held.

Polling staff members wait for their turn to receive polling materials for Feb. 8 general elections
Polling staff members wait for their turn to receive polling materials for Feb. 8 general elections at a collection point in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. AP

The first attack happened in Pashin, a district in Baluchistan province, said Jan Achakzai, the spokesperson for the provincial government. Officials said at least 14 people were killed in the attack and the wounded are being transported to a nearby hospital. Police said some of them were listed in critical condition.

Later Wednesday, another bombing at the elections office of politician Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema Islam party in Qilla Saifullah town of Baluchistan killed at least 10 people, Acahkzai and local authorities said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came a day before Pakistan holds parliamentary elections. Caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ijaz denounced the bombings.

The bombing came despite the deployment of more than half a million security officers began deploying across Pakistan to ensure peace following a recent surge in militant attacks in the country, especially in Baluchistan.

Authorities distributing ballot papers to more than 90,000 polling stations.

The gas-rich Baluchistan province at the border of Afghanistan and Iran has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades. Baluch nationalists initially wanted a share of the provincial resources, but later they initiated an insurgency for independence.

Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups also have a strong presence in the province. 

The election has been marred by allegations of pre-poll rigging following a crackdown on the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, winner of the 2018 poll, but booted out of power by a national assembly vote of no-confidence four years later.

There have also been multiple security incidents in the run-in to Thursday's vote, with at least two candidates shot dead and dozens more targeted in attacks across the country.

Campaigning officially ended on Tuesday night and voting is due to begin at 8:00 am local time (0300 GMT) Thursday, closing at 5:00 pm.

In Lahore, a stream of returning officers accompanied by police were seen collecting neon-green sacks of voting materials from a central distribution centre to take to their polling stations.

"The security set up is a lot better because the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) has installed its app and taken other measures," said Mohammad Baqir, referring to electronic scrutiny of those collecting voting materials.

"The work is going smoothly."

The figures are staggering in a country of 240 million people -- the world's fifth most populous -- with around 128 million eligible to vote.

Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies, with 266 seats directly contested in the former -- an additional 70 reserved for women and minorities -- and 749 places in the regional parliaments.

"We must ensure security measures at every level," Sindh provincial police chief Rafat Mukhtar told a news briefing Wednesday in the port city of Karachi.

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