07/16/2018, 16.09
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For Christian leaders, terror attacks against pro-minority parties threaten democracy

by Kamran Chaudhry

The authorities have neglected security as they focus on the election campaign. Pro-democracy parties also hit in 2013.  Radical parties have a free hand. Advocacy group calls on Election commission to be fair to all parties.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Recent attacks against election rallies organised by parties that support minorities raise doubts about the transparency of the upcoming general elections, this according to Christian leaders in the cities that were hit by the recent wave of violence, which claimed the lives of more than 130 people three days ago.

Yesterday, the country held a day of mourning, as the death toll from the attack on the election rally in the city of Mastung (Balochistan) rose to 131.

"We are facing a strange situation,” said Rev Simon Bashir of the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, speaking to AsiaNews. “Growing terrorism is raising questions about the efficiency of state institutions. Shocks have become everyday routine,” he explained.

“The authorities continue to blame the Islamic State group or foreign agencies. The terrorists,” he noted, “have succeeded in their objective and the affected parties have had to postpone their campaign due to killed voters."

Rev Bashir said that he met several times Nawab Siraj Raisain, a candidate for provincial Awami party killed in the attack. "He always travelled with more than 20 young people. It seems that the suspected bomber was a local."

The clergyman is not new to terrorist violence. A suicide attack took place in his Church back in December. Since then, 15 Frontier Corps paramilitary are stationed inside the building for security reasons.

His is not the only church to have taken extra security measures. St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar also boosted its security recently. On 10 July, the city was the scene of the attack at the election rally of the Awami National Party (ANP), which resulted in the death of 23 people.

"The authorities are more focused on the elections, and security has been neglected,” said Rev John Joseph, the cathedral’s pastor. “The ANP was also hit during the 2013 election campaign.”

“We have lost genuinely progressive leaders who cared about religious minorities. Radical parties, on the other hand, have a free hand. The real test for minorities will come after the elections.”

Citizens for Free and Fair Franchise and Freedom of Expression, a joint committee of Lahore human rights groups, also expressed fear that the elections will be manipulated.

"The recent series of terrorist attacks remind [of] the blanket blockade of the democratic parties in the last elections,” it said in a press release.

“These attacks seem to complement the official efforts to make it impossible for democratic parties to compete with pro-religious extremist parties."

The "Election commission of Pakistan must assert its authority and take all possible measures to ensure free and fair election and an even playing field for all political parties."

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