Mourners yesterday gathered to bury their dead in southwest Pakistan after a blast killed 128 people at a political rally in one of the country’s deadliest attacks, underscoring ongoing security challenges following years of dramatic improvements.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in the town of Mastung near Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province, which was the latest in a series of bombings targeting campaign events in the past week, sparking fears of more violence ahead of nationwide polls on July 25.
Hospitals in the area have been placed under “emergency” management after being overwhelmed yesterday, with about 150 also injured in the blast — many of them still in a critical condition after sustaining head trauma.
“We have imposed emergency [management] in the hospitals and canceled the vacations of the doctors and paramedics,” Balochistan Minister of Home and Tribal Affairs Agha Umar Bungalzai told reporters.
Extra security forces had been deployed in “sensitive areas,” Balochistan Secretary of Home and Tribal Affairs Haider Shako said, warning politicians to remain “vigilant.”
Among the dead was Siraj Raisani, who was running for a provincial seat with the newly formed Balochistan Awami Party.
The party yesterday suspended campaign-related events and has called for its supporters to observe three days of mourning.
The attack was the deadliest since Taliban militants assaulted a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014, killing more than 150 people, mostly children, and one of the deadliest in Pakistan’s long struggle with militancy.
The explosion in Mastung came hours after four people were killed and 39 injured when a bomb hidden inside a motorcycle detonated close to another politician’s convoy in Bannu, near the border with Afghanistan.
The politician — Akram Khan Durrani, a candidate of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party — survived.
No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.
On Tuesday, a bombing claimed by the Pakistani Taliban targeted a rally by the Awami National Party in the city of Peshawar. Local Awami National Party leader Haroon Bilour was among the 22 killed.
Following the attacks, analysts called for the country’s armed forces to focus on security challenges rather than politics, in the wake of a myriad of allegations that the military was meddling in the country’s upcoming polls.
“It has never been more true that Pakistan’s security establishment needs to focus on security, not politics,” analyst Mosharraf Zaidi said on Twitter.
An editorial in the English-language daily Dawn called for authorities to “not only beef up security, but also mobilize the entire intelligence apparatus to do the job they are actually meant to, ie preventing attacks.”
The bombings come at a moment of increasing political turmoil in Pakistan as former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested after arriving in the eastern city of Lahore late on Friday.
Sharif aims to energize his embattled party’s base — injecting fresh uncertainty into the country days ahead of the polls.
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