Pakistani Taliban Pledge Not To Attack Election Rallies Ahead Of Feb. 8 Vote

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center, and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, right, wave to supporters as they arrive to address an election campaign rally in Hafizabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center, and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, right, wave to supporters as they arrive to address an election campaign rally in Hafizabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
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ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani Taliban pledged Thursday not to attack election rallies, saying their targets are limited to the military and security forces, as political parties and independent candidates ramp up their campaigns ahead of the Feb. 8 vote.

“We have nothing to do with these elections and the parties participating in them,” the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, said in a statement.

Other militant groups have not made similar pledges, and some previous Pakistani elections have been marred by violence. Two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bomb attack in 2007 minutes after she addressed an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Her son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, is leading the campaign for her Pakistan People's Party.

Thursday's rare pledge by the TTP came after the government approved the deployment of troops in sensitive constituencies after intelligence agencies warned that militants could target rallies, which are usually held outdoors in public places.

The TTP are a separate group but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, which seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021. Pakistan has experienced many militant attacks in recent years, but there has been an increase since November 2022, when the TTP ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government.

In 2023, nearly 500 civilians and a similar number of security forces were killed in militant attacks clamed by the TTP, the Islamic State group and other insurgents. Most of the violence in 2023 was reported in the northwest and southwest near Afghanistan.

The increase in violence has raised fears among political candidates.

Last week, the Pakistan Muslim League party of former three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched its election campaign with a rally in Punjab province. Analysts say it is likely to win many parliament seats and may be able to form a new government.

Election officials have rejected the candidacies of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan and most members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains a leading political figure despite his conviction in a graft case. Election officials barred Khan from the ballot because of the conviction.

Some lawmakers in the Senate wanted a delay in the vote because of winter and security reasons, but election officials rejected the request. All of the parties also opposed any delay in the vote.

Authorities shut some universities in Islamabad this week without any explanation, but media reports said it was for security reasons.