image image

Pakistan

At least 132 killed in Pakistan bombings as former PM returns home to begin jail sentence

Critics accused the army of failing to provide security after the bomber blew himself up at an election event in southwestern Pakistan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 10:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 8:50pm

Disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was in custody on Saturday, a day after the deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s troubled election campaign killed more than 130 people, including a candidate.

In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a suicide bomber killed 128 people on Friday, including a politician running for a provincial legislature. Four others died in a strike in Pakistan’s northwest.

The attacks came hours before Sharif returned from London with his daughter Maryam to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Maryam Sharif faces seven years in jail.

Mushahidullah Khan, a spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, said on Saturday that the ex-prime minister and his daughter were being held in Adiala Jail outside the capital Islamabad.

Sharif has been calling for supporters to vote for candidates from his party.

Khan said Sharif will appeal his conviction and apply for bail before the deadline expires on Monday. He still faces two additional corruption trials, both of which will be held inside the jail, said Khan.

In the southern town of Mastung, candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 others died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing in southwestern Baluchistan that wounded another 300 people, straining local health services.

The group gave no reason for the bombing. Raisani was running for the election on the newly launched Baluchistan Awami Party ticket.

Appeals were made for donations of blood. Bodies overwhelmed the morgue as crying family members arrived to collect their dead.

On Saturday, banners decrying the tragedy fluttered over empty streets as the provincial capital of Quetta closed to mourn for the dead.

“Stop killing people, stop shedding blood” read one banner, while another read: “Terrorism and terrorist should be curbed with iron hands.”

At Quetta’s main hospital Dr Mohammad Waseem said there was an overwhelming response to the appeal for blood – mostly from university students.

Student donor Ali Ahmed, 18, said: “That was a big tragedy in Mastung, I am very sad. If I can save a life with my blood, I am here to bleed for them.”

Within hours of the bombing in Mastung, Sharif returned to Pakistan from London where he was visiting his ailing wife.

Sharif’s son-in-law is currently serving a one-year prison sentence on the same corruption charge, which stems from buying luxury flats in Britain that the court said were paid for with illegally acquired money.

Before Sharif’s return, police swept through Lahore, arresting scores of his Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport.

Sharif has been banned from politics. His brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads the League and is campaigning for re-election on July 25.

Friday’s bombings underscored the security threat.

The first killed four people in the northwest near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party. The explosion targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unhurt, and wounded 20 people, said local police chief Rashid Khan. Durrani is running in the July 25 vote against popular former lawmaker Imran Khan.

Analysts called for the country’s armed forces to focus on security challenges rather than politics, in the wake of allegations that the military was meddling in the upcoming poll.

“It has never been more true that Pakistan’s security establishment needs to focus on security, not politics,” tweeted analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.

In an editorial in the English daily Dawn, the newspaper called for authorities to “not only beef up security but also mobilise the entire intelligence apparatus to do the job they are actually meant to, ie preventing attacks”.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse