Two blasts took place near electoral candidates’ offices in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, local officials said on Wednesday, killing 22 people and raising concerns over security in the lead up to Thursday’s polls.
Pakistan goes to the polls amid rising militant attacks in recent months and the jailing of Imran Khan, the winner of the last national election, who has been dominating the headlines despite an economic crisis and other woes threatening the nuclear-armed country.
Authorities have said they are boosting security at polling booths. The attack took place at the office of an independent election candidate.
It was not immediately clear who was behind Wednesday’s attack. Several groups, including the Islamist militant Pakistani Taliban and separatist groups from Balochistan, oppose the Pakistani state and have carried out attacks in recent months.
Khanzai hospital, close to the site of the explosion, gave the death toll as 12 and said more than two dozen were injured. Deputy Commissioner of Pishin district, Jumma Dad Khan, said that the blast had injured many people.
The attack came as political parties wrapped up their campaigning in the quiet period mandated by electoral rules the day before the election.
Jailed former Pakistani premier Khan earlier urged his supporters to wait outside polling booths after casting their votes, as rival political parties held large rallies to mark the end of the election campaign period.
Any large-scale gathering of Khan’s supporters near booths could raise tensions because of what they call a military-backed crackdown on him and his party that has restricted campaigning. The military denies interfering in politics.
“Encourage the maximum number of people to vote, wait at the polling station … and then stay peacefully outside the Returning Officer’s office until the final results are announced,” said Khan via his handle on social media platform X, accompanied by an undated photograph depicting him wearing simple black clothing.
The origin of the image, the first of Khan in months, was not clear. Previously Khan’s supporters have disseminated his messages, including through AI-generated audio speeches, from notes he has passed on through his lawyers during prison visits.
Other political parties also wrapped up their campaigns.
Electoral front runner Nawaz Sharif led a huge rally in the eastern city of Kasur, with his brother, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is running in that constituency.
Amid a sea of tens of thousands of supporters waving green party flags, Sharif called on the country’s huge youth population to support his party and took aim at Khan, who has previously attracted support from young voters in the area.
“Don’t fall for him,” Sharif said.
Supporters of the rival Pakistan People’s Party also gathered in the southern city of Larkana led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who could play kingmaker if no one party receives enough parliamentary seats to form a government outright.
The former foreign minister and son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto criticised opponents, including Sharif, for what he described as compromising the country’s security and economy during their tenures.