The threat of violence hangs over this Saturday’s landmark general election in Pakistan, which marks the first time that a civilian government will complete a full term and hand over to another.
Pakistan’s Taliban is reportedly vowing to disrupt the poll with suicide bombings – in words attributed to its leader Hakimullah Mehsud, because it does not accept “the system of infidels called democracy”.
This week has seen several attacks on political parties in the northwest tribal region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A bomb on Wednesday in the southern city of Karachi injured 20, including women and children. No group claimed responsibility for the attack which had no obvious target.
A leading newspaper, the Daily Times, says the election is being called the bloodiest in Pakistan’s history.
The favourite to become prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has held the post twice in the 1990s, before he was deposed, jailed and exiled. He has played on his experience and promised to turn the country into an Asian tiger.
Worryingly for the West, he has hinted strongly that he will end support for the US war on Islamist militancy.
Imran Khan is expected to make a full recovery despite falling off a campaign rostrum and fracturing his spine.
The former cricket star advocates shooting down American drones and pulling the Pakistani army out of border areas with Afghanistan where the insurgency is strongest.
Neither his nor Sharif’s party has been targeted by the Taliban.