Pakistan Election 2013: Taliban Targets Pakistani Candidates That Have Critiqued Them
Fakhrul Islam, a candidate set to contest next month's general elections in Pakistan, was shot dead by a gunman on Thursday in a drive-by shooting in Hyderabad, Pakistan. At the same time, another candidate belonging to an entirely different political party, Arbab Ayub Jan, narrowly escaped a bombing in Peshawar, of which he was seemingly the target of. Both claims of responsibility have fallen to the Pakistani Taliban, who have made it their goal to attack all candidates belonging to any party that is liberal and secular and/or has refused to negotiate with them. They have also targeted parties and individuals — namely, Pervez Musharraf — who have allowed the U.S. use of drones in tribal regions.
Earlier this week, the Pakistani Taliban released an 8 minute video, warning the citizens of Pakistan to not vote for either the Mutahida Quami Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP) or the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). They also warned people not to attend rallies hosted by these particular parties.
The Pakistani Taliban also has repeatedly attacked the ANP party in particular since 2008, calling on the party's close relationship with Washington and their role in the drone program and war on terror that has wreaked havoc upon both innocent civilians and militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that the two men involved in the attacks on Thursday both belonged to the two parties the Taliban has repeatedly called out and warned against. Fakhrul Islam, the man shot to death in Hyderabad, was a Pushtun member of the MQM Party. Islam received four bullets in the head, chest, abdomen and arm, while his father, who was in very close proximity to Islam, remained unwounded, demonstrating the militant's precision.
Jan, on the other hand, who remained unharmed after the bomb blast in Peshawar, belonged to the ANP party, and just narrowedly missed the remote-control blast on the roadside which was intended to kill him.
In both cases, the interim government was accused of not providing all candidates proper security in the face of such threats.
“I just cannot risk my life believing the security provided by the government is good enough. They must be able to anticipate and preempt such attacks. It’s not just a failure but a collapse of the security apparatus,” said Jan.
Jan's request is not unreasonable, either, considering that a high-ranking Pakistani Taliban commander said in an interview earlier this month that the militant group had "prepared 200 suicide bombers" to unleash during the weeks leading up to the May elections.
Candidates belonging to all three parties have expressed their frustration and anger over the Taliban's threat, holding that it has led to an uneven playing field since they cannot freely campaign without risking their lives.
It is notable, however, that is it unlikely that it would truly make a difference in their popularity even if they were allowed to campaign freely. All three parties have been deeply unpopular as of late, especially PPP, who has lost much support after being in power for the past five years and ANP, which is still reeling from Musharraf's presidency.
Meanwhile, the leading two candidates, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, are not in direct danger from the Taliban.
Nevertheless, the issue lays in the fact that the Taliban, in its attempt to exert its power, is undermining Pakistan's already fragile democratic process and in order to counter their attempts, the interim government must provide adequate security to all candidates.