PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - Police in Pakistan say a suicide bomber killed a secular party leader and 11 supporters in an attack on an election rally Tuesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Peshawar police chief Qazi Jamil said the bomber struck a rally for Haroon Ahmed Bilour, an Awami National Party candidate for a provincial seat. He said another 35 people were wounded in the attack, including Bilour’s 16-year-old son.
The ANP governed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, from 2008 to 2013. The military waged a major offensive against militants in the Swat Valley in 2009. Islamic extremists killed hundreds of ANP leaders and supporters in attacks around the 2013 election. Bilour’s father, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was killed by a suicide bomber during a meeting in 2012 ahead of the vote.
The attack came hours after the military said it would deploy more than 370,000 security forces to polling stations to ensure free, fair and transparent national elections on July 25. That is more than five times the number of troops deployed during the last elections in 2013, when the security situation was much worse.
Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, an army spokesman, said 371,388 troops - nearly a third of the total armed forces - would be deployed to provide security for the upcoming vote. He said the deployment was requested by the elections oversight body.
He said the troops would provide security at 85,000 polling stations and carry out other elections-related duties. Nearly 135,000 of the troops have been called up from retirement, Ghafoor said.
He told reporters the military would not be directly involved in the voting and insisted it remained neutral.
“People should vote for the candidate of their choice, without any fear,” he added. “Our loyalty is only with Pakistan.”
International and Pakistani rights groups have recently accused the army and its intelligence agency of intimidating media outlets in an attempt to stifle criticism of the military, accused by some of seeking to play a dominant role in the country’s politics.
The military has ruled Pakistan directly and indirectly for most of its 71-year history.
Ghafoor also dismissed allegations raised on Tuesday by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who accused the Pakistani spy agency of pressuring one of his ruling party’s candidates to change political loyalties. Sharif was ousted from office by the country’s Supreme Court last July and was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on corruption charges. He plans to appeal the sentence.
Previously, the military removed Sharif from office in 1999, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. Musharraf was later forced to resign in 2008.
Analysts say Pakistan will likely have a coalition government after the elections, as no single political party is expected to get a two-thirds majority in parliament. Any party that gets a simple majority can form the government.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed.
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