‘The bad days are back’: Peshawar blast rekindles poll activists’ fears

Pakistani supporters of Awami National Party (ANP) shout slogans at a funeral ceremony of a local leader and candidate of ANP, Haroon Bilour, in Peshawar on July 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2018
0

‘The bad days are back’: Peshawar blast rekindles poll activists’ fears

  • The ANP leader said the suicide attack this week recalled “the worst days of 2013 when it was a war-like situation for the ANP”
  • In the 2013 elections, the ANP lost all its seats, including those of Nawab and Amanullah Mehsud, who had been elected as members of the Sindh assembly in 2008

KARACHI: A Taliban suicide attack that killed an Awami National Party (ANP) leader in Peshawar has reopened the wounds of party workers in Karachi who faced a wave of militant strikes in the run-up to the 2013 general elections.

The attack on Tuesday killed at least 20 people, including ANP election candidate Haroon Bilour. 

“The Peshawar attack has sounded alarm bells,” Razzaq Bunairi, an ANP leader who survived several Taliban raids during the 2013 election campaign, told Arab News.

The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had “declared war on the ANP.” 

“This secular party, during its regime, martyred and jailed many Islamists, so they will remain under direct attack until they repent and revert to Islam,” the Taliban warned, referring to the ANP government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province from 2008 to 2013.

The ANP ordered extensive military operations to flush out militants from urban and tribal areas of the province. 

A Pakistan intelligence report early last month warned that the TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah had ordered militants to target the PPP and ANP across country.

Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike on June 14 in Afghanistan’s remote Kunar province.

Bunairi said that the militant strikes “cannot reduce our courage and commitment, but they certainly remind us to take care.”

The ANP leader said the suicide attack this week recalled “the worst days of 2013 when it was a war-like situation for the ANP.” 

“I was attacked five times but survived,” he said. “They tied explosive material to the gate of my home and killed both my police guards. I couldn’t resist anymore and left for Dubai.”

In the wake of fresh attacks on ANP leaders, Bunairi said that poll campaigning in areas such as Baldia town, Landhi and Sohrab Goth in Karachi will become difficult.

“Our wounds had just healed and the incident reopened them. We didn’t want the past to haunt us, but it seems the bad days are not over yet,” he said.

Zia Ur Rehman, author of “Karachi in Turmoil,” said the fatal attack on Bilour shows that the ANP and other liberal parties are still on the Taliban’s hit-list. 

He urged the Supreme Court to reassess its order to reduce the security provided to political leaders.

“After two important Taliban commanders, including Fazlullah, were killed, it was highly likely that TTP militants would take revenge. They attack politicians since they are easy targets for them to make headlines,” said Rehman. 

Afrasiab Khattak, a senior ANP leader, described the Peshawar suicide attack as “a failure of the law and order machinery of the state.”

“In the 2008 election, the ANP campaign was attacked by terrorists. In 2013, the party’s campaign was practically blocked. Not a single person responsible for killing more than 900 ANP activists has been brought to book,” he tweeted.

ANP leader and former Sindh minister Ameer Nawab said the continued threat of militant violence would distort the election result.

“In the last elections, ANP leaders and workers, including 77 in Karachi, were killed by the Taliban to keep us away,” he told Arab News.

 

In the 2013 elections, the ANP lost all its seats, including those of Nawab and Amanullah Mehsud, who had been elected as members of the Sindh assembly in 2008.

The 2015 (Local Governments) poll also proved to be a political catastrophe for the party, which won only one of the 209 seats it contested.

ANP Sindh leaders said they were expecting good results in the 2018 poll — but their optimism appears to be short-lived.

“It’s the responsibility of the caretaker government to ensure a peaceful election and provide protection to the candidates. Otherwise free and fair elections will be nothing more than a slogan,” said Nawab.


India temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

Updated 2 min 46 sec ago
0

India temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

  • More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, line routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state
  • About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday
PAMBA, India: Indian police mounted a huge security operation Friday to ensure women can safely access a flashpoint Hindu temple, after battles erupted the first time they attempted to enter following a historic court ruling.
More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, lined routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state, which traditionalists are trying to prevent women from reaching.
The Supreme Court ruled in September that a ban on women aged between 10 and 50 entering the temple was illegal. Sabarimala has since become a showdown issue for gender activists and Hindu hard-liners.
About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday ahead of the start of a Hindu festival beginning on Saturday.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees were expected to make the four-hour trek up a hill to Sabarimala during the festival which lasts until mid-January.
On Friday morning hundreds of demonstrators at Kerala’s Kochi airport tried to stop leading activist Trupti Desai from leaving for Sabarimala.
“We tried to hire taxis several times but the agitators are not allowing them to take us. They have threatened violence if they do,” Desai told Indian television.
“Even police said they cannot help us go out of the airport right now because the number of protesters is swelling and they are resorting to violence,” she said.
“A while back they tried to take us out from a back door but the protesters spotted us and attacked the cars.”
On the roads around the temple, 150 kilometers south of Kochi, police meanwhile set up barricades to check cars.
“We will deploy over 15,200 police around the temple for the entire season up to January 15,” Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar said.
In mid-October, when the temple opened for the first time since the court ruling, hardliners clashed with police and prevented women from accessing the site.
They threw stones at the police and assaulted female journalists and attacked their cars. Some 2,000 people were later arrested.
Police in riot gear had escorted two women to within 500 meters (yards) of the temple but were forced to turn around.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said its followers were unfairly targeted in the arrests.
“The BJP supports the devotees,” the BJP president in Kerala, P.S Sreedharan Pillai, said.
The state is run by a communist government and Pillai added: “The communists are atheists and want to destroy the Sabarimala temple culture,” Pillai said.
Activists say that the ban at Sabarimala reflects an old view that connects menstruation with impurity.
The traditionalists argue that women are allowed in most Hindu temples and the practice at Sabarimala is part of their tradition, and not anti-women.
This time the state government is determined to ensure that women get the upper hand.
Press reports said the police were even considering using helicopters to take women to the site.
Late Thursday the state government called a meeting of all political parties in a bid to reach an agreement on letting women into the temple on certain days.
But the talks ended late Thursday in an acrimonious failure.
“We are at a standstill and now the situation is becoming even worse,” said Sasikumar Varma, a top representative of the Pandalam royal family that has been traditionally involved in the temple’s management.
“The government stuck to its stance of allowing women’s entry and we are opposed to it.”