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Pakistan: Independent candidate affiliated with Imran Khan's party shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Rehan Zaib Khan, contesting as an independent after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was denied an electoral symbol, was canvassing in the area when he was shot by unidentified assailants. Balochistan was rocked by several grenade blasts and the death of a political party worker on Wednesday.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Peshawar Published on: February 01, 2024 9:20 IST
Pakistan elections, independent candidate shot dead
Image Source : PTI (X) Rehan Zaib Khan, the independent candidate affiliated with former Pakistan PM Imran Khan's party.

Peshawar: A week before Pakistan's general elections, an independent candidate affiliated with former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was shot dead on Wednesday in the Siddiqabad area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Bajaur district, Dawn reported citing the police. The incident came after four people were killed in a bomb blast targeting a rally in Balochistan’s Sibi.

Khar Police Station House Officer (SHO) Rasheed Khan said election candidate Rehan Zaib Khan was canvassing in the area when unidentified armed men opened fire on his vehicle. Four others were also injured in the attack, the SHO added. Bajaur District Police Officer Kashif Zulfiqar said the incident appeared to be a "targeted killing" and law enforcement authorities began conducting a search operation in the area.

The PTI said Rehan was a “party-backed candidate for a National Assembly seat” and strongly condemned the killing. It also highlighted that PTI-affiliated candidates and public gatherings were being targeted by “terrorist attacks” that raised a “big question mark” on the fairness of polls. Notably, PTI candidates are contesting as independents after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denied the party its traditional electoral symbol of a cricket bat.

“After the attack on PTI’s election rally in Sibi, the responsibility for the killing of the [party-backed] National Assembly candidate is on the incompetent caretaker government,” PTI said on X. "The unconstitutional caretaker government is focused on the agenda of throwing a political party out of elections instead of fulfilling its constitutional duties".

The party demanded an immediate probe into the attack and demanded security for all PTI-backed candidates participating in the elections. In a separate post, the party called on the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of Wednesday's incident as well as the blast in Sibi. PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan strongly condemned the killing and expressed concern that “an unacceptable plan is being made to break morale and push PTI out of the elections.”

Although the ECP did not mention Rehan, it said that it had taken notice of the killing of a candidate from Bajaur and sought a report from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary and police chief to take action against those responsible. Later in the day, the caretaker provincial chief minister admitted that there were security concerns in some areas.

Spade of violence ahead of elections

Meanwhile, Balochistan was rocked by a series of violent incidents in various cities that left several people injured. Three separate hand grenade attacks were carried out against the Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) election offices in Quetta and Kalat's Mangochar, wounding five people in the first incident, according to Geo News. The strikes were followed by another hand grenade attack on the PPP candidate Zahoor Buledi's house in Kech, police said.

A worker belonging to the Awami National Party (ANP) was killed during the party’s election campaign in Balochistan’s Qila Abdullah. Police said armed individuals arrived on a motorcycle and shot the ANP worker, identified as Zahoor Ahmed, while another individual was injured.

Condemning the incidents, Balochistan's caretaker Home Minister Zubair Jamali said that such attacks would not deter the public's resolve against the menace of terrorism. The attacks come in the backdrop of increased terrorist attacks that have plagued Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces in recent months.

Violence before Pakistan's elections is not uncommon. In January, independent candidates Shah Khalid and Kaleemullah Khan were shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Swabi district and North Waziristan respectively. Several Pakistan leaders have come under attack in different parts of the country. The US State Department has expressed concerns about the violence, which it said could undermine the electoral process.

Pakistan general elections

Pakistan goes for polls on February 8. Notably, the Pakistan National Assembly had 342 seats-- 272 of which were directly elected, 60 were reserved for women, and 10 for religious minorities. After fresh delimitation, the National Assembly (NA) would consist of 336 seats, including 266 general seats, 60 seats reserved for women, and 10 for non-Muslims, a decrease of six seats overall.

PTI's prospects experienced severe problems amid a military-backed crackdown and without an electoral symbol. Its founder Imran Khan, along with his wife Bushra Bibi, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in the Toshakhana corruption reference, a day after the ex-PM and his deputy Shah Mahmood Qureshi were handed a 10-year sentence in the cipher case for allegedly leaking state secrets.

With his nomination papers denied, Imran is virtually out of the electoral race, a situation similar to what Nawaz Sharif faced in 2018. Many candidates who are contesting as independents are being backed by PTI in the elections. 

ALSO READ | After getting 14-year jail term, Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan's marriage with Bushra Bibi is now under legal woes

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