VIOLENCE threatened to derail the fragile Pakistan election process yesterday as at least 39 people were killed and dozens more injured in two suicide bomb attacks.
Supporters of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto again bore the brunt of the violence as the first bomber struck two days before Pakistan was due to vote.
Pakistan’s interior ministry said 37 people were killed and more than 90 wounded when a bomber rammed his car into the office of Riaz Hussain Shahm, an independent candidate who is backed by Mrs Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Many of those killed were PPP supporters gathering after a pre-election rally.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema blamed the attack on those “who want to derail the election process”. In a second attack in the north west, two civilians were killed and four soldiers wounded when a bomber drove into a checkpoint outside an army media centre in the Swat valley.
The attacks came as Mrs Bhutto’s party warned that it would impeach President Pervez Musharraf if it wins tomorrow’s elections.
Polls by independent watchdogs reveal that if the elections are free and fair, Miss Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is likely to win a majority of seats in the national assembly, followed by the PML-N party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q) led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, could be wiped out, according to the forecasts.
Although the PPP had left open the option of working with Mr Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, his popularity has plummeted since he declared emergency rule last year and purged the judiciary after it challenged his authority.
Senior figures in Miss Bhutto’s party, now headed by her widower Asif Zardari, say they will impeach the president if they win the two-thirds majority needed in the assembly to do so. “If we are able to win the two-thirds majority, there is no way we would allow him [Musharraf] to work,” said Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali.
Mr Sharif, whose party has formed a loose alliance with the PPP, also pledged to remove the president.
Pakistan’s attorney-general on Friday rejected a statement by a US-based rights group which said it had obtained a recording of him predicting that the elections would be “massively rigged”.
Meanwhile, in a move that observers hope may end Pakistan’s long history of military involvement in politics, the head of the army has withdrawn hundreds of officers from civilian positions in the government. General Ashfaq Kayani ordered 311 officers to return to their jobs in the armed forces at a meeting of commanders in Rawalpindi on February 7.
The Western-friendly general is known to be close to Mr Musharraf but is keen to reduce the army’s role in politics.
Mr Musharraf is understood to be considered a liability by military commanders who, insiders say, asked him to step down as head of the armed forces at a November meeting.
“They had asked him to step down as army chief immediately after he imposed the rule of an emergency or else they told him that things might go out of the army control completely,” said a retired brigadier, Saeed Khokhar.
In a survey of public opinion last month by the US-funded International Republican Institute, the PPP topped the field, soaring to 50 per cent in the national sample thanks to public sympathy over Miss Bhutto’s death.