ISLAMABAD (AP) — An especially violent spate of killings, kidnappings and bombings marred the run-up to Pakistan's nationwide election, capped Thursday by the abduction of the son of a former prime minister as he was rallying supporters on the last day of campaigning before the historic vote.
Saturday's election marks the first time in Pakistan's military coup-riddled history that a civilian government has finished its term and will hand over power to another. But the significance of the occasion has been overshadowed by the relentless violence targeting mostly liberal, secular parties.
More than 125 people have been killed by a series of bombings and shootings that can mostly be traced to Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt a democratic process they view as un-Islamic. Separatists in the southwestern province of Baluchistan have also attacked candidates and their supporters across the political spectrum.
There was no claim of responsibility for the abduction of 25-year-old Ali Haider Gilani, but suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban. Gilani is running for a provincial assembly seat under the banner of the Pakistan People's Party, one of three parties the Taliban has singled out for retribution because they supported military operations against Taliban insurgents in northwestern Pakistan.
His father, Yousuf Raza Gilani, is a longtime member of the PPP who served as prime minister while many of those military operations were carried out.
The younger Gilani was leaving an election event in the city of Multan in southern Punjab province when attackers pulled up in a car and motorcycle, sprayed the area with bullets, threw him into one of the vehicles and drove off, officials and witnesses said.
"One of the gunmen grabbed Haider, who had blood splashed on his trousers," said rally participant Shehryar Ali in comments aired by Pakistani television broadcaster Geo News.
The former prime minister has been campaigning heavily in Multan to help his three sons, who are all running for elected office in the district, but he was not at the rally when his son was taken.
Appearing shaken, the elder Gilani said in televised comments that two bodyguards were killed in the attack, but he did not know whether his son was wounded.
"His two guards were shielding him, and they died," the former premier said. "I urge all of my party supporters to remain peaceful and participate in the vote."
Gilani was forced out of office last summer by the Supreme Court after refusing to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Although his ouster from office meant he could not run in this election, the Gilani family is still heavily represented in the Multan district races. In addition to the son who was abducted, the former prime minister has two sons running for national assembly seats.
The Pakistan People's Party, along with the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement and the Awami National Party, have been singled out for attack by the Taliban. All were part of the outgoing government during a time when there were repeated military offensives against Taliban militants in the tribal areas.
The threat has forced all three to severely curtail their election events. Instead of the large, outdoor rallies the PPP used in 2008 to whip up support among thousands of voters, the party has relied on television and newspaper ads and smaller indoor gatherings where security is more manageable. In northwest Pakistan, candidates from the Awami National Party held election events inside private homes under heavy security or reached out to voters via social media and by telephone.