Islamabad: Pakistan’s government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militants, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

Parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11.

Since April 21, when campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190.

Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.

On March 18, a spokesperson for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban, TTP) declared elections part of an “un-Islamic democratic system which only serves the interests of infidels and enemies of Islam,” and warned voters to stay away from political rallies by the major coalition partners in the outgoing government.

Particularly at risk have been the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP).

On April 28, the TTP again declared that it “had decided to target those secular political parties which were part of the previous coalition government”.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan said: “Pakistan’s interim government should use law enforcement agencies and, if essential, the army, to provide as much protection as possible to candidates and political parties from Taliban attacks.

“Unless the government, the country’s independent election commission, and security forces ensure that all parties can campaign freely without fear, the election may be severely compromised.”

Pakistan’s interim government, which took over March 17, after the end of the government’s five-year term, should provide protection to individual candidates at high risk, Human Rights Watch said.

It should also facilitate election campaigning by political parties targeted by the Taliban by providing adequate security for rallies and campaign meetings.

The interim government should redeploy civilian law enforcement to sensitive areas, particularly in Quetta, in insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on the Afghan border.

The Pakistan military, which is officially under civilian rule but has long operated beyond its control, should follow the directives of the interim government to provide security in a nonpartisan manner wherever necessary, Human Rights Watch said.

Taliban targeting parties
The Taliban are selectively targeting political parties like the Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement ahead of Pakistan's general election because of their secular views, a spokesman for the banned militant group said.
The 'shura' or central council of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan decided to target "secular political parties" that were part of the last coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party and were involved in ordering military operations against militants in Swat and other areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas, Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.
The selective targeting of political parties and candidates was the "decision and prerogative of the Taliban Shura", Ihsan was quoted as saying on the website of the Dawn newspaper.
Asked about the Taliban not attacking political parties like Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Maulana Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and PML-N though they too are contesting elections within the same secular system, Ihsan said the militants were focusing on parties that were in the outgoing government.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan follows the instructions of the shura, which decided the political parties to target, he said. In response to another question about the Taliban paving the way for some parties to win the elections and denying space to others, Ihsan said: "Neither we are against nor in favour of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, PML- N, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam".
He added, "We are against the secular and democratic system, which is against the ideology of Islam but we are not expecting any good from the other parties either".
He contended the other parties too support the democratic system but the Taliban had the "prerogative" of deciding whether to target them.
Referring to militant attacks on independent candidates, Ihsan claimed that "all secular minds supporting and taking part in the elections would be targeted".
Over the past few days, the Taliban have targeted campaign offices and election meetings of the ANP, PPP and MQM in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Dozens have been killed or injured in these attacks.


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