It was the bloodiest day yet on the campaign trail.
At least 20 people were killed and dozens injured when militants bent on derailing next month’s election mounted suicide and bomb attacks on two prominent politicians in the provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan on Tuesday.
Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, senior leader of the Awami National Party (ANP), and Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, provincial president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), both of whom were the apparent targets of the separate attacks, survived.
In the Peshawar attack, which took place in the evening, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the venue of an ANP corner meeting in the Yakatot area, on Munda Beri Road. Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the former federal minister for railways, was the chief guest at the meeting which was arranged to welcome new members in the party.
Ghulam Bilour’s younger brother, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in a similar attack on December 22, 2012. Bashir Bilour was a senior minister in the provincial cabinet.
Bilour escaped Tuesday’s bombing with cuts and bruises. The bomber struck near the first vehicle in the security squad of Bilour who was at least 15 metres away from the site.
“The bomber stood waiting and detonated the explosives when the chief guest’s convoy drove in,” SHO (Investigation) Sabz Ali Khan told The Express Tribune. The casualties were taken to the Lady Reading Hospital (LHR). The hospital’s chief executive, Arshad Javed, confirmed 16 deaths and 61 injured – eight of whom are in critical condition.
Journalists were also among the casualties. Tariq Aslam Durrani, subeditor at Urdu daily Pakistan, was killed, while his colleague Azhar Ali Shah and Express News reporter Ihtesham Khan were injured.
Abid Khan, SHO of Kutwali police station, confirmed the death of six police officials in the blast. He identified them as ASI Hussain Khan, his gunman Farhad and driver Amjad, and Punjab police constables Dildar and Tora Baz Khan.
The corner meeting was taking place in Khyber Plaza and the market president Haji Naseeruddin was scheduled to join the ANP. “When I stood up and started my speech I was told that the chief guest has also arrived. People rushed to receive Haji Bilour and moments later a huge explosion went off,” ANP worker Niaz Muhammad Mohmand told The Express Tribune.
“Our market is a kite market so we decorated the plaza with red kites which attracted a large number of children,” said eyewitness Shahzad Khan. “I was tossed up by the impact of the blast. I regained my composure 20 minutes later to find myself surrounded by chaos– victims crying for help and blood splattered all over,” he added.
Bomb Disposal Squad official Abdul Haq said that the bomber carried at least seven kilogrammes of explosives in his vest.
The TTP quickly claimed credit for the attack. Speaking to journalists by phone, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said that their target was Haroon Bilour, the son of the late Bashir Bilour and nephew of Ghulam Bilour. “We missed our target,” he said and renewed the threat to continue attacks on three ‘secular’ political parties: ANP, PPP and MQM.
Former information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that such attacks could not deter his party from contesting elections. “The ANP will not pull out from the elections, come what may,” he told journalists. He added that the ANP would take part in elections even if security was withdrawn.
Hussain credited his party for standing up against terrorists and carrying out its election campaigns everywhere like other parties in the country. “Elections should not be delayed for even a second. If we lose, we will concede our defeat with an open heart,” he added.
The ANP, meanwhile, convened an emergency meeting on April 18 under party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan. The caretaker provincial government also convened an all-party conference at the Chief Minister House at 4pm today.
Earlier, PML-N Provincial President Nawab Sanuallah Zehri survived a roadside bomb in the Zheri Ghat area of the Zehri Tribal Territory, some 320 kilometers away from Quetta. The bomb, which was detonated remotely, killed Zehri’s son, brother and a nephew.
Sanaullah Zehri was travelling in a convoy of 30-35 vehicles, and was en route to the Zehri Tribal Territory to campaign for the elections.
“When the convoy reached the Ghat Bulbul Tarsani area, a bomb went off, destroying a vehicle carrying four people – including Sanaullah’s son Mir Sikandar Zehri, his nephew Mir Zaib Zehri and his younger brother Mehrullah Zehri and their guard,” Abdul Wahid, the head constable at Levies station, told The Express Tribune. “The bomb was planted underneath an underpass.”
The four people were killed on the spot and another 30 were wounded in the blast which destroyed four vehicles. The casualties were shifted to the Divisional Headquarters Hospital in Khuzdar.
Caretaker Chief Minister Nawab Ghaus Bakhsh Khan Barozai condemned the attack and offered condolences to Sanaullah over the death of his relatives. He termed the attack a cowardly attempt to sabotage the upcoming elections.
Separately, another nephew of Sanaullah Zehri also escaped a remote-controlled bomb attack in the Mangochar area of Kalat district, some 160 kilometres from Quetta.
According to police, Doda Khan Zehri was en route to Zehri from Quetta when suspected insurgents remotely detonated a roadside bomb near his convoy in the Mangochar area. The convoy narrowly escaped the blast.
Sources said that Doda Khan was going to offer condolences to his uncle Sanaullah Khan on the demise of his son, brother and nephew.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2013.