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Pakistan Election 2013: Pakistani Taliban Continues to Attack Secular Candidates

In the latest bout of violence that has preceded the upcoming Pakistan general elections, the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the two bombs that were detonated at the campaign offices of two politicians in the country’s northwest, killing nine. These attacks, which were initially aimed at secular political parties and politicians who have critiqued the Taliban in the past but now have plagued most of the other parties as well, are not only becoming increasingly fatal but also have the potential to destabilize Pakistan’s already shaky democracy and postpone the elections.

The first attack took place on the outskirts of Kohat at the office of Syed Noor Akbar, an independent candidate. At least six were killed and 10 others were wounded, according to police officials.

The second bomb, targeted at another independent candidate, Nasir Khan Afridi, took place in Peshawar. According to police officials, three were killed and 12 were wounded.

Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman, Ashanullah Ashan, claimed responsibility, saying that the militant group is against any politician or political party which supports a secular and democratic government.  According to him, “A man cannot be secular and Muslim at a time. These are two different doctrines in nature.”

These attacks follow a series of bombings against the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) earlier this week, which left at least 24 people dead. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is also on the top Taliban’s hit-list.

At least 50 people have died since the elections were announced early in April in attacks carried out by the Taliban. Not only have these attacks damaged the Pakistani people’s confidence in the upcoming election but also have hindered politicians from campaigning.

The two leading candidates, however, have been largely unaffected by the Taliban’s persistent attacks.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s chairman, Imran Khan, kicked off his campaign in Lahore earlier last week and is still going strong. His rallies have seen unprecedented audiences and he has easily become wildly popular with Pakistan’s youth.

Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has also campaigned freely and keeps a stronghold in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab.

Although Sharif was initially thought to be a favorite to become the next Prime Minister, recent polls have shown the two candidates are nearly neck-to-neck.

Nevertheless, fears of a major militant attack before May 11 are growing. Just weeks before the 2008 election, the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the country was plunged into chaos. Many believe that a major politician may be targeted, in an attack led by the Taliban, before the election in an effort to destabilize the election process this time around as well.

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