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10 May, 2013 02:40

Pakistan's election turmoil: Taliban threatens ‘infidels’ with more violence

Ahead of Saturday’s elections in Pakistan the Taliban is intensifying its attacks, vowing to cripple voter turnout. In the latest move of intimidation, gunmen have abducted another candidate, the son of a former prime minister.

During a small political gathering in the city of Multan, militants kidnapped the son of Yusuf Raza Gilani, the former prime minister who was disqualified last year from his premiership and now serves as the vice-chairman of the from the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

"People came on a motorbike. They also had a car with them and they opened fire and abducted Yousuf Raza Gilani's son Ali Haider in a black Honda," Police officer Khurram Shakur said, as quoted by Sky News. 

The gunmen also killed Ali Haider Gilani’s secretary and a bodyguard during the assault, police said.

"His two guards were shielding him, and they died...I urge all of my party supporters to remain peaceful and participate in the vote," Ali's father said in a statement to Pakistani media after the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, Ali's brother Musa sent a very different message to the public: “If we don't get my brother by this evening I will not let the elections happen in my area,”  he said. 

Other family members said they will boycott the vote unless Ali Haider Gilani is returned.

Several others were injured, including Gilani, who was reported by local media to be bleeding as he was dragged into the abductor’s car.

The Gilani family claimed that they had received death threats in the past from the Taliban and blamed the police for not providing adequate security.

Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan denied responsibility in a telephone call to Reuters.

On Friday a motorbike bomb exploded near a Pakistani political party's office, killing four and injuring 15 in the country's northwest on the eve of nationwide elections, AFP reported. The blast struck the Miranshah bazaar in North Waziristan, a hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Taliban struggle

In a message to the group's spokesman, dated May 1, and obtained by Reuters on Thursday, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, revealed the organization’s plans for suicide bombings in all of the country's provinces on election day.

“We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy,” Mehsud said.

The Taliban has waged a war in Pakistan for years trying to enforce Islamic Sharia law and expel the United States, which regularly carries out drone warfare along the Pakistani-Afghani border, inflicting civilian collateral damage. In response, the Taliban resolves to its traditional assault measures of suicide blasts that killed thousands of civilians and security personnel.

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wave flags and cheer during his campaign closing rally in Lahore on May 9, 2013.(AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)

The group's main stronghold is located in the northwest, along the Afghan border in the semi-autonomous tribal region. The Taliban also have a strong presence in Karachi.

Over the past month, Taliban fighters have allegedly killed more than 100 people in assaults on election candidates and their gatherings in an effort to undermine elections they regard as un-Islamic.

The extremists are threatening the moderate politicians from some of the country’s most volatile areas forcing them to cancel campaigning. This is also threating the voter turnout on Saturday.

“Everyone is scared of bombs and nobody feels safe. So very few people will go and vote because they're scared. And God only knows who will be the winner,” Arshad, the local shopkeeper has told the RT crew in Peshawar.  

Candidates switch to social media outlets and other forms of communications to avoid large gatherings, a traditional trademark of elections in the country.

The Taliban has vowed to target the country’s three main secular parties which formed the outgoing national government. The Awami National Party (ANP) has suffered some of the worst attacks.

“We can't campaign, we can't arrange meetings. All parties are doing rallies with millions of people but we can only do them with 200 people, and even when we do that terrorists still target us,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, ANP candidate told RT.

Supporters of Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan wave party flags as they wait to listen Khan video link address from a hospital during last election campaign meeting in Islamabad on May 9, 2013.(AFP Photo / Aamir Qureshi)

But the Taliban seems to avoid targeting some of the marginalized parties such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami. They have also spared some mainstream parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which stands against drone attacks and advocates withdrawal of Pakistani forces from ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border.

So far the main opposition party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also avoided the Taliban’s wrath as Sharif is seen as a strong contender to become the next prime minister. He advocates breaking from the US hold on the region and suggested negotiations with the Taliban.

Part of the reason why these parties are not in the Taliban’s crosshairs experts say is because they support peaceful negotiations with the Taliban. The group recently said possible negotiations should be mediated by the leaders of the top two Islamic parties and the Pakistan Muslim League-N.

The other parties that have been the targets of the Taliban insurgency also called for peace negotiations but demanded that the militants put down their weapons first and embrace the constitution – conditions which the Taliban has rejected.

Historic vote

For Pakistan, this elections is historic, as the state enters its first ever democratic transition where for the first time a civilian government has completed a full term and is ready to hand over the reins of power to another civilian government.

Prior to that Pakistan was ruled by the military for more than half of its history, mostly through coups.

In the May 11 general election, voting will take place in all parliamentary constituencies of Pakistan, to elect Members to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament and to the four Provincial Assemblies. Over 86 million are registered to vote in the country.

The main contenders in the race are Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a 24-year-old son of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto who heads the Pakistan People’s Party, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from the Pakistan Muslim League and celebrity Imran Khan from the Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Overall, 11 parties will participate in the election.

The army announced on Thursday that it would dispatch tens of thousands of troops to polling stations to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the vote. In Bunjab province alone the army has deployed 300,000 security officials, including 32,000 troops. Another 96,000 security personnel would be deployed in the northwest.

But despite all the promised security measures, it is the non-Muslim minorities which feel most threatened.

"I feel shame, that (Pakistan) People’s Party and these liberal political parties have not played the positive role to give security to the non-Muslim: Hindi, Christians and Ahmadis,” Amar Lal told RT.