KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A bomb exploded outside an election office of one of Pakistan's main political parties Thursday evening, killing five people in the latest attack ahead of the nation's May 11 elections.
As the election approaches, militant groups have increasingly been attacking liberal, secular parties such as the one targeted Thursday in the port city of Karachi. The onslaught has forced many of the parties to change their campaign strategy and raised questions about whether the vote can be considered valid if some mainstream parties can't properly take part.
The bomb that exploded Thursday night had been planted outside an office used by the Muttahida Quami Movement, a liberal, secular party headquartered in Karachi, said senior police official Amir Farooqi. The officer said nine people also were wounded by the bomb, which was attached to a motorcycle.
Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press.
He said Thursday's attack was part of the Taliban's previously announced strategy to target three political parties. In addition to MQM, the Taliban has threatened to attack the Awami National Party, a largely Pashtun party based in the northwest and in Karachi, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, which won the last election. The ANP and the MQM were also part of the last government. All three are perceived as being liberal parties that have earned the Taliban's ire by advocating against the militants and extremism.
Earlier, the Taliban killed at least two political party representatives and attacked a number of political events, particularly targeting the ANP in the northwest.
One of the most serious attacks occurred on April 21, when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a meeting of the ANP in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 16 people. The Taliban said the target of the attack was Haroon Ahmad Bilour, whose father, a senior party leader, was killed in a suicide bombing in Peshawar in December. He escaped unscathed, but his uncle, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, suffered minor injuries.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Amnesty International condemned the attacks on political parties.
The group said that in some parts of the tribal areas, a stretch of land in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, the Taliban have banned certain parties from openly campaigning because they are viewed to be secular by the militant group. The Taliban aims to overthrow the Pakistani government.
"The Pakistani authorities must ensure that all political party representatives and their activists, voters and state officials involved with the election process are protected against such attacks and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice," Amnesty said.
Analysts and secular party candidates fear that the danger could skew election results in favor of hard-line Islamist parties and others who refuse to speak out strongly against the Taliban.
AP writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed.