Gunmen have attacked an election rally in Pakistan’s southern Punjab province and abducted the son of a former prime minister, intensifying what has already been a violent run-up to tomorrow’s nationwide elections.
Ali Haider Gilani, the son of ex-premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, is running for a provincial assembly seat in the district of Multan.
He was attending an election event in the town of Multan on the last day of campaigning when the gunmen pulled up, started shooting, grabbed and threw him into a vehicle and drove off, witnesses said.
A resident of Multan who attended the rally said the attackers first pulled up in a car and motorcycle outside the venue where the younger Gilani was meeting with a few hundred supporters.
When he came out of the building, two gunmen opened fire, killing one of the people in Gilani’s entourage.
“One of the gunmen grabbed Haider, who had blood splashed on his trousers,” said Shehryar Ali in comments on Pakistani television broadcaster Geo News.
One of his guards was killed and five people were wounded in the attack, said a Punjab government official. It was not immediately known who abducted Gilani or why.
Tomorrow’s election marks a historic milestone for Pakistan as one civilian government completes its term and prepares to hand off to another.
But the race has been marred by a string of violent attacks against candidates and election events. Much of the violence has been at the hands of the Taliban, which has mainly targeted political parties that have supported military operations against the militants in northwestern Pakistan.
Gilani is running as a candidate for the Pakistan People’s Party, one of the three parties the Taliban has said it is focusing on.
“We want our brother back tonight. If we don’t get him, we will not allow elections to be held in our area,” his elder brother, Ali Musa, who was in tears, later told reporters.
Police later sealed off all entry and exit points in Multan, and a massive search operation was underway.
Gilani’s father served for roughly four years as prime minister but was forced out of office last summer by the Supreme Court after refusing to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
But the Gilanis are still a powerful political family, with the two sons standing in elections to the provincial and national assemblies.
Kidnapping is a tactic frequently used by militants and criminal groups across Pakistan. Ransom is an important revenue stream for the Pakistani Taliban.