Pakistanis bury a victim of the suicide bombing at a funeral in Peshawar on July 11. The death toll rose to 20 as Taliban militants claimed responsibility in the first major attack ahead of July 25 polls. (Photo by Abdul Majeed/AFP)
A suicide attack on an election meeting in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed at least 20 people including a prominent political figure.
Haroon Bilour, a candidate for the leftist Awami National Party (ANP), was among victims who were holding an election-related meeting in Peshawar, the provincial city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on the evening of July 10.
He was the son of senior politician Bashir Bilour, who himself was killed during a Taliban attack before the last general elections.
"It was a suicide attack. A bomber approached Mr Bilour and blew himself up during his election meeting in the Yaktoot area of the city," senior police officer Qazi Jameel told media.
According to a list of casualties released by Lady Reading Hospital, 20 people were confirmed dead and another 62 are under treatment.
Pakistan holds a general election on July 25 and the attack came a day after national counter-terrorism body NACTA issued an alert regarding possible terrorist attacks on leading political figures, including those from the ANP.
In a press statement, Pakistan's electoral body suspended the election in the Peshawar constituency and called for a beefing up of security for parties and their leaders.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed grief and sympathy for the Bilour family and the ANP for the "heinous terrorist attack."
"We are fighting against a nexus of inimical forces which aren't willing to absorb a peaceful and stable Pakistan. We remain undeterred and shall defeat them" he said.
The death toll is likely to mount as some of those injured are in a critical condition.
Church leaders and activists have strongly condemned the attack.
Gulshan Bhatti, a Catholic political activist in Peshawar, said the bombing has raised questions about the transparency of elections.
"Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar recently directed police chiefs of all provinces to withdraw the security protocol provided to influential individuals not entitled to official security. The political parties were left on their own due to this decision." Bhatti said.
Lutheran Bishop Jimmy Mathew of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province expressed his support for the Bilour family.
"They were not landlords or industrialists like our typical politicians. The ANP is especially targeted because of Zarb-e-Azb [a joint military operation against militants] which started during their regime in 2014. Unfortunately, the children of those killed are now avenging their parents. The liberal party has sacrificed a lot," he told ucanews.com.
ANP general secretary and former provincial minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain lost his only son in 2010 when he and his family were targeted by extremists in two separate attacks.
Rawadari Tehreek, an interfaith peace group, is organizing a protest against the Peshawar blast in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on July 11.
"This is a targeted campaign. Some political parties are being trapped in corruption cases while others are targeted by terrorists. The ANP is suffering the most due to their philosophy of non-violence. Anti-democratic forces are trying to derail elections," said Samson Salamat, chairman of Rawadari Tehreek.