Pakistan is scheduled for national elections in just under two weeks with the date set for July 25th. However, the buildup to the elections has been marred by violent terrorist attacks. On Friday, July 13th, the southwestern province of Baluchistan was hit by a suicide bomb. The Washington Post and The New York Times cited the death toll to be between 132 to 149 killed, with another 200 people injured. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted a political rally held by the pro-military Awami Party. However, Pakistani government officials continue to claim that the Islamic State has no established presence in their country.
Another attack on the same day killed an additional four people. According to Shaiq Hussain and Antonio Olivo of The Washington Post, it occurred “near a rally held for Akram Khan Durrani, a leader in the conservative Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party that supports the Afghan Taliban.” No one has claimed responsibility for this attack at this time, although news sources have speculated that it could potentially have bee carried out by the Islamic State.
On Tuesday, July 10th, another 21 people were killed in a suicide bombing carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) in Peshawar. The target was another rally that was being held by the National Awami Party for candidate Harron Bilour who was killed in the bombing.
The attacks were orchestrated by the Taliban and the Islamic State as a tactic to spoil and obstruct the upcoming elections in Pakistan. The vulnerable, soft-target campaign rallies combined with the presence of multiple terrorist groups in the country make for a potent combination which ultimately lead to an outburst of violence.
Pakistan has a long history of violent terrorist attacks, especially around the time of elections. In 2007, after eight years of exile, former Prime Minister Benazier Bhutto returned to Pakistan to contest that year’s elections as the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. During a rally held in October, her motorcade was the target of a bombing that killed 160 people. Two months later, Bhutto and roughly twenty others were killed in a suicide bombing in Rawalpindi. In 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan were responsible for the Army Public School massacre, where 132 of the 141 killed were children.
The recent string of violence has brought the Pakistani government into question once again on their willingness and capacity to confront and route terrorist networks throughout the country. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) agency has been consistently criticized throughout the years for alleged links to terrorism. On multiple occasions, the government has been accused of providing funds or aid to terrorist groups and militants, spurring on the violence they claim they to want to end. Allegations from prominent western countries such as the United States have accused the I.S.I. of having ties with terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba as well as providing the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network sanctuary within Pakistan. Pakistan’s government has continually disputed these claims. However, given their continued refusal to acknowledge the presence of these groups within the country, it seems likely that they are assisting them in some manner.
In the aftermath of the violent bombings and attacks, many within Pakistan are calling for the country’s military to increase security and crackdown on any threats terrorism could pose to the campaigns in the run-up to the July 25th elections. A political analyst from Islamabad is quoted in The Washington Post explaining, “During election campaigns when large public meetings and rallies are held, it’s very difficult to ensure security to everyone. It’s easy for terrorists to strike, and it seems terrorists were waiting for the election campaign.”
Other analysts have criticized the lack of consistency between the Pakistani government and some of its deep state apparatuses, like the I.S.I., when it comes to confronting terrorism. Until most or all levels of Pakistan’s government are on the same page, terrorism and violent groups like the Taliban will continue to run rampant. Furthermore, until the government acknowledges the presence of these groups within Pakistan, no change for the better can occur.
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