Twin bombings kill at least 28 as Pakistan prepares for elections

The attacks, claimed by ISIL, targeted election campaign offices of candidates in the restive Balochistan province.

Members of a bomb disposal squad examine the site of a blas
Members of a bomb disposal squad examine the site of a blast in Khanozai, Balochistan, Pakistan [Naseer Ahmed/Reuters]

Two bombs in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan have killed at least 28 people, officials said, with dozens more injured.

The twin blasts on Wednesday came a day before elections. The attacks targeted the election offices of political parties in the restive region.

The first blast, which killed 16 people, took place at the office of independent election candidate Asfandyar Khan Kakar in Pishin district near the border with Afghanistan, said Jan Achakzai, Balochistan’s caretaker information minister. More than 20 people were reported wounded.

The blast was the result of an improvised explosive device attached to a motorcycle, he said.

The second explosion in Qilla Saifullah detonated near an office of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), a religious party that has previously been the target of attacks. At least 12 people were killed in that attack and several others were injured, Achakzai said.

The ISIL group claimed responsibility for the blasts late on Wednesday.

ISIL fighters “blew up a motorbike” rigged with explosives “at an election gathering” in the Pishin district, the group said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app. They also claimed responsibility for the Qilla Saifullah blast.

In the immediate aftermath of the dual attacks, Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement that its western border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan would close until Friday to ensure security during the election.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the bomb attacks, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

“We strongly condemn the horrific attacks, and the bomb explosions that we saw earlier today that killed many, many people and injured many more a day before the elections, clearly related to the elections,” Dujarric said.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Jane Marriott also said she was “appalled by today’s terrorist attacks and condemn those seeking to prevent people from voting”.

Heightened security concerns

The bombings have raised worries over safety during Thursday’s vote, and authorities said they will boost security at polling booths.

Achakzai also announced a three-day mourning period but emphasised that “the elections will take place on Thursday as per the schedule, and we urge people to exercise their right to vote to defeat those who wanted a delay in the elections”.

Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces have already been deployed across Pakistan in a bid to avert attacks after the recent surge in violence. Balochistan has been particularly blighted.

The separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has stepped up attacks in recent months. Last week, at least 15 people were killed when the BLA targeted military and security installations in the city of Mach, 65km (40 miles) south of Balochistan’s capital, Quetta.

The restive region, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is strategically important because of its rich copper, zinc and natural gas reserves. Cities in the province are a constant target of armed groups. Baloch nationalists initially wanted a larger share of the province’s resources but later initiated an independence movement.

Fearing violence during Thursday’s elections, Achakzai had announced on Sunday night that internet service would be temporarily restricted on election day.


Double threat

Pakistani forces are also facing growing security threats in the remote northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Pakistan Taliban (TTP)  has also increased its violent activity.

The group has claimed responsibility for an attack on Monday in which at least 10 police officers were killed.

In December, a Pakistan Taliban suicide bomber in Tehsil Daraban killed at least 23 soldiers and wounded 32.

Last month, at least 101 people were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a mosque in the regional capital, Peshawar.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies