Death Toll in Pakistan Suicide Bombing Rises to 128
Posted July 14, 2018 5:23 p.m. EDT
ISLAMABAD — The death toll in a suicide bombing that targeted an election campaign event in southwestern Pakistan rose to 128 on Saturday, the deadliest terror attack in the country this year.
The attack, which took place Friday in the restive province of Baluchistan, has renewed concerns that violence could disrupt national elections scheduled for July 25.
Pakistan is preparing for its second democratic transition after military rule, but a number of terrorist attacks targeting candidates and a growing sense of political unrest and turmoil threaten to undermine the credibility of the election.
Four such assaults have struck in the past week alone, with two candidates among those killed.
The federal government announced a day of mourning after the latest blast, with national flags at half-staff in all government buildings in Baluchistan, where two days of mourning were decreed. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack Friday.
In the assault, Nawabzada Mir Siraj Khan Raisani, 55, a candidate for the provincial assembly, had just arrived at a campaign gathering in a town in the district of Mastung when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives.
Raisani, who was among those killed, was a candidate of the Baluchistan Awami Party, a newly formed group that is seen as being backed by the Pakistani military.
The explosion ripped through the meeting and left a trail of devastation and destruction. The victims were ferried to the provincial capital, Quetta, because the health facilities in Mastung were unable to cope with the number of the wounded and the extent of their injuries.
Agha Umar Bangluzai, the interim home minister of Baluchistan, said 128 had been killed and at least 180 others wounded in the attack. Local news media, however, said the death toll was at least 131 and expected to rise.
Bangluzai said political parties had been told to inform local authorities three days before holding any election events, but that had not happened on this occasion. “We have put a restriction on any political gatherings for two days in Baluchistan,” he added.
Lashkari Raisani, the elder brother of the candidate who was killed, blamed the military for not doing enough to curb the violence. “The state should stop its double game,” he said. “It should go after all militant groups. We have blood everywhere.”
Mastung has a history of deadly sectarian and militant violence. Raisani escaped a bombing in the district in 2011, when an explosion ripped through a prize ceremony after a soccer match. He was unhurt, but his teenage son and 24 other people were killed.
Last year, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a senior politician, escaped an assassination attempt in Mastung when his convoy was targeted in an explosion. Haideri survived with injuries, but at least 25 other people were killed in the attack that was also claimed by the Islamic State group. In the past, extremist Sunni groups in the district have targeted Shiite pilgrims making their way to Iran.
Officials in Pakistan deny that the Islamic State group has an established presence in the country. They say that members of banned local militant groups, especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, operate on behalf of the Islamic State group in places like Baluchistan.
But Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst who is the director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, said the Islamic State group had been active in the region and had targeted government and security forces.
“It is an intelligence failure, but the attack was expected,” Rana said. “Last year, at least four big terror attacks in Baluchistan were claimed by the Islamic State.”
Mastung has a complex profile, he added. Several nonviolent sectarian groups are also active in the district, and it has a significant number of radical religious schools.
Rana said that despite the increased attacks, he did not see an immediate threat to the elections.
“The violence is currently limited to regions where the militants have been active and concentrated for a long time,” he said. “Unless militant attacks move to the urban areas, especially big cities in Punjab province, I don’t think the elections would be affected.”
Several candidates, however, have complained that their ability to campaign has been affected because of the recent attacks. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was not allowed to address an election event in northwestern Pakistan by authorities, party officials said Saturday.