by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- A string of deadly bombings in Pakistan Thursday, which killed at least 115 people, mostly civilians, has raised serious concerns over the country's security situation before its parliamentary elections to be held in a few months.
Three bomb attacks rocked the restive southwestern city of Quetta,while another bomb attack targeted members of a non- political religious group in the northwestern Swat district on Thursday.
The sudden increase of terrorist attacks have raised many questions about the capability of Pakistani law enforcement agencies,which have so far failed to break the terror network in the country.
The Quetta blasts were carried out through explosives-laden cars that could not be detected despite earlier warnings of the possible terrorist attacks in the city.
The worst single attack in Pakistan killed 139 people in Karachi on Oct. 19, 2007, at the homecoming of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
President Asif Ali Zardari late Thursday presided over an emergency meeting of the ruling coalition in Karachi, where gunmen killed at least 10 people in different parts of the city almost at the same time when the twin blasts killed scores of innocent civilians in Quetta.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Asharf and top leaders of allied parties attended the meeting, which government sources said was called to discuss the serious threats to the elections.
The banned extremist Sunni group "Lashkar-e-Jhangvi," which is affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the Quetta attacks. The twin attacks occurred in the areas where the majority of the population are Shiite Muslims.
When local TV channels were showing footage of the destruction and ambulances shifting the injured to hospitals, several anchors described the series of bomb attacks as an attempt to dislodge the government before it completes its constitutional five-year term in mid-March.
They were also of the opinion that certain hidden hands are conspiring to derail the election process. The current assemblies are scheduled to be dissolved on March 17 and a caretaker government would be installed to supervise the polls within three months.
President Zardari, Prime Minister Ashraf and government ministers have promised to hold elections on time. The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League party, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is fully supportive of the government's stance on the upcoming polls.
The government and the opposition are also engaged in talks for a consensus caretaker setup to ensure a fair and transparent election and set its date. Other political parties were also against postponing the election.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has already started preparations for the elections and is currently conducting voters' verification in Karachi as part of its plan to check possible rigging of the electoral exercise.
Despite serious political differences, almost all major political parties are unanimous in saying that elections should be held on time as they resist any attempt to postpone it or extend the tenure of the caretaker government.
The rare unity among political forces about the election is a good omen for the smooth transition and continuation of the election process but the latest outbreak of terrorist attacks has cast doubts over the elections.
But the Pakistani Taliban has strongly opposed the election process. Last month it issued a veiled warning that it would disrupt the process.The Taliban warning and the string of terrorist attacks could be seen as major threats to the elections.
A religious leader, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, has announced a long march in Islamabad on Jan. 14 to press for reforms in election laws and to stop what he called corrupt elements from taking part in elections.
The powerful group, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement or MQM, has also announced that it would join the march though it is part of the ruling coalition.
Major political parties, analysts and the media generally view the long march as a move to disrupt the elections. The government has warned Qadri, who issued a decree against the Taliban while he was living in Europe some two years ago, of possible Taliban attacks on the marchers but he insisted in going ahead with his plan.
The Interior Ministry said that the intelligence agencies have traced a call of the Taliban Chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, of assigning his men to attack the long march. If this happens, this could be a major setback to the election process.