(Islamabad) – Pakistan ’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11, 2013.
Since April 21, when election campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190. Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.
On March 18, a spokesperson for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban, TTP) declared elections part of an “un-Islamic democratic system which only serves the interests of infidels and enemies of Islam,” and warned voters to stay away from political rallies by the major coalition partners in the outgoing government. Particularly at risk have been the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party (ANP). On April 28, the TTP again declared that it “had decided to target those secular political parties which were part of the previous coalition government.”
“Pakistan’s interim government should use law enforcement agencies and, if essential, the army, to provide as much protection as possible to candidates and political parties from Taliban attacks,” said Ali Dayan Hasan , Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless the government, the country’s independent election commission, and security forces ensure that all parties can campaign freely without fear, the election may be severely compromised.”
Pakistan’s interim government, which took over on March 17, after the end of the government’s five-year term, should provide protection to individual candidates at high risk, Human Rights Watch said. It should also facilitate election campaigning by political parties targeted by the Taliban by providing adequate security for rallies and campaign meetings. The interim government should redeploy civilian law enforcement to sensitive areas, particularly in Quetta, in insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, Karachi, Sindh province, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on the Afghan border.
The Pakistan military, which is officially under civilian rule but has long operated beyond its control, should follow the directives of the interim government to provide security in a nonpartisan manner wherever necessary, Human Rights Watch said.
Numerous deadly attacks were carried out against political parties in April. On April 27, an attack on a PPP election meeting in Karachi killed three and injured another 20. On April 25, two people were wounded in a grenade attack on a PPP election office in Noshki, Balochistan province, and eight were killed in attacks in Karachi for which the Taliban took responsibility. On April 24, a bomb attack near the home of a politician from the PPP injured three people in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Karachi-based MQM party shut down its election offices in protest after an April 23 attack on an election office in the city killed five and wounded 15 party activists. However, on April 27, two people were killed and over 25 injured in bomb attacks targeting the MQM election office in Karachi’s Orangi Town area. Earlier, on April 11, S.M. Shiraz, an MQM candidate, was shot dead in Karachi. On April 10, Fakhrul Islam, an MQM candidate, was shot dead in Hyderabad, Sindh province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for these attacks on the MQM. The MQM has declared it will only campaign door-to-door and not hold major rallies in light of threats to its activists and the government’s failure to address the situation.
On April 28, a child was killed and 13 people were injured in a bomb attack on an ANP rally in Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Earlier in the day, two bomb attacks in Kohat and the provincial capital, Peshawar, targeting the election offices of independent candidates opposed to the Taliban killed nine and injured 30. On April 26, a bomb attack on an ANP election office killed 11 and injured over 40 in Karachi. On April 22, a grenade attack on an ANP election office in Swabi wounded two people. On April 21, the home in Turbat, Balochistan, of ANP chief Malik Baloch was attacked. Two ANP activists were killed in Pishin, Balochistan, in an attack on an election rally the same day. On April 16, 16 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack on an ANP rally in Peshawar, which sought to target former minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. On April 1, a bomb attack on the ANP killed two tribal leaders in the town of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
On April 28, a child was killed and five people injured in an attack on an independent candidate’s election meeting in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. Between April 23 and April 25 there were eight bombings in Quetta attributed to the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a Taliban affiliate. On April 23 alone, four attacks killed six people and wounded at least 45 in the city. LeJ claimed responsibility for these attacks, one of which targeted Abdul Khaliq Hazara, leader of the Hazara Democratic Party, who was not harmed.
On April 15, a bomb attack targeting Sanaullah Zehri, the candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Khuzdar, Balochistan, killed four, including three members of his family. Twenty-five others were wounded. Zehri accused Baloch nationalists for the attack.
“Since the end of military rule in 2008, Pakistan’s political parties have displayed an impressive commitment to cementing democratic and constitutional rule,” Hasan said. “It would be a tragedy if a combination of militancy and the government’s failure to ensure security compromises the election and sets back Pakistan’s progress towards regular, free, and fair elections in which all Pakistanis can participate.”