‘The bad days are back’: Peshawar blast rekindles poll activists’ fears

KARACHI: A Taliban suicide attack that killed an Awami National Party (ANP) leader in Peshawar has reopened the wounds of party workers in Karachi who faced a wave of militant strikes in the run-up to the 2013 general elections.

The attack on Tuesday killed at least 20 people, including ANP election candidate Haroon Bilour. 

“The Peshawar attack has sounded alarm bells,” Razzaq Bunairi, an ANP leader who survived several Taliban raids during the 2013 election campaign, told Arab News.

The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had “declared war on the ANP.” 

“This secular party, during its regime, martyred and jailed many Islamists, so they will remain under direct attack until they repent and revert to Islam,” the Taliban warned, referring to the ANP government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province from 2008 to 2013.

The ANP ordered extensive military operations to flush out militants from urban and tribal areas of the province. 

A Pakistan intelligence report early last month warned that the TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah had ordered militants to target the PPP and ANP across country.

Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike on June 14 in Afghanistan’s remote Kunar province.

Bunairi said that the militant strikes “cannot reduce our courage and commitment, but they certainly remind us to take care.”

The ANP leader said the suicide attack this week recalled “the worst days of 2013 when it was a war-like situation for the ANP.” 

“I was attacked five times but survived,” he said. “They tied explosive material to the gate of my home and killed both my police guards. I couldn’t resist anymore and left for Dubai.”

In the wake of fresh attacks on ANP leaders, Bunairi said that poll campaigning in areas such as Baldia town, Landhi and Sohrab Goth in Karachi will become difficult.

“Our wounds had just healed and the incident reopened them. We didn’t want the past to haunt us, but it seems the bad days are not over yet,” he said.

Zia Ur Rehman, author of “Karachi in Turmoil,” said the fatal attack on Bilour shows that the ANP and other liberal parties are still on the Taliban’s hit-list. 

He urged the Supreme Court to reassess its order to reduce the security provided to political leaders.

“After two important Taliban commanders, including Fazlullah, were killed, it was highly likely that TTP militants would take revenge. They attack politicians since they are easy targets for them to make headlines,” said Rehman. 

Afrasiab Khattak, a senior ANP leader, described the Peshawar suicide attack as “a failure of the law and order machinery of the state.”

“In the 2008 election, the ANP campaign was attacked by terrorists. In 2013, the party’s campaign was practically blocked. Not a single person responsible for killing more than 900 ANP activists has been brought to book,” he tweeted.

ANP leader and former Sindh minister Ameer Nawab said the continued threat of militant violence would distort the election result.

“In the last elections, ANP leaders and workers, including 77 in Karachi, were killed by the Taliban to keep us away,” he told Arab News.

In the 2013 elections, the ANP lost all its representatives, including Nawab and Amanullah Mehsud, who had been elected as members of the Sindh assembly in 2008.

The 2015 poll also proved to be a political catastrophe for the party, which won only one of the 209 seats it contested.

ANP Sindh leaders said they were expecting good results in the 2018 poll — but their optimism appears to be short-lived.

“It’s the responsibility of the caretaker government to ensure a peaceful election and provide protection to the candidates. Otherwise free and fair elections will be nothing more than a slogan,” said Nawab.

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