News Column

Pakistan Violence Escalates as Elections Near

May 9, 2013

Gunmen on Thursday abducted provincial assembly candidate Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani, at a campaign gathering in the southern city of Multan -- a dramatic escalation of the wave of campaign violence that has overshadowed national elections scheduled for Saturday.

For weeks, militants have been bombing small campaign rallies and election headquarters belonging to secular parties, but the kidnapping of Gilani's son shocked the country and renewed fears about security for voters when they head to polling stations this weekend.

Gilani belongs to the same party as his father and President Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People's Party, which has ruled the country for the last five years. His father is one of Pakistan's most recognized politicians, serving as prime minister from 2008 until last summer, when the Supreme Court forced him to step down following his conviction on contempt charges for failing to pursue a corruption case against Zardari.

The kidnapping occurred while the younger Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate from a Multan district, had attended a small rally at a house in the southern Punjab province city.

As he left the house with his entourage, gunmen in a black Honda sedan pulled up and opened fire, eyewitnesses said. Two of the gunmen grabbed Gilani and threw him into their car, witnesses said.

When Gilani's personal assistant, Muhammad Mohiuddin, tried to stop the gunmen, they pushed him away and then shot him to death, said Hafiz Bilal, a neighbor who witnessed the attack.

At least five other people were injured in the attack, police said.

Police cordoned off the city and began searching for Gilani, said Ghulam Muhammad Dogar, a Multan police official. Gilani had a team of five private security guards with him, the maximum allowed by law, Dogar said.

"This is not a failure of police," he said. "We can only provide extra security to former ministers, chief ministers or governors."

Ali Musa Gilani, another son of the former prime minister, demanded the immediate recovery of his brother. "If my brother is not recovered by tonight, I will not allow elections to be held in Multan," said Musa Gilani, in tears as he spoke to reporters. "I want the police to get my brother back."

In remarks broadcast on Pakistani television, the elder Gilani urged PPP backers and candidates "to stay calm, pray and participate in the elections because that's their national responsibility. ... Such acts cannot discourage us."

Zardari issued a statement calling the kidnapping "a reprehensible act of a cowardly enemy."

Wazir Khan, a Multan police investigator, said no one has yet claimed responsibility for Gilani's abduction. The Pakistani Taliban, the country's homegrown insurgency, has been behind much of the violence sweeping over this campaign season.

Taliban leaders have focused many of their attacks on three secular parties, the PPP, northwest Pakistan's Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which governs Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

However, in recent days Taliban militants have also targeted the country's religious parties, saying their aim is to disrupt the parliamentary and provincial assembly elections on Saturday.

Special correspondent Shakeel Ahmed in Multan contributed to this report.


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