Pakistan's secular Pashtun party defiant after Taliban bomber kills 20 activists

Election banners for the Pakistani secular Awami National Party line a road in Peshawar, Pakistan, on July 11, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 July 2018

Pakistan's secular Pashtun party defiant after Taliban bomber kills 20 activists

PESHAWAR/KARACHI: Pakistan's Awami National Party vowed on Wednesday not to be swayed from its resolve to face down terrorists, a day after a Taliban suicide bombing killed a score of its activists, including the son of a party leader assassinated in 2012.

The secular party, drawn chiefly from the Pashtun ethnic group that also provides the Taliban with many recruits, has long competed with it and other Islamist groups in Pakistan's northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.

"We want peace on our soil and will stand with our ‎people," said senior party leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who lost his only son in a militant attack eight years ago.

"One thing is clear: We will stand in the field against the terrorists," he told Reuters.

Among those killed in Tuesday night's bombing in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was senior leader Haroon Bilour, who inherited the anti-Taliban mantle of his father, himself killed in a 2012 suicide bombing there.

The ANP's insistence that Pakistan should have a secular government instead of rule by Islamic law has made it a target for the Pakistani Taliban, which groups militant and sectarian bands that have waged war on the state for more than a decade.

Once a leading force in socially conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the party and its leaders have spent five years rebuilding after the Taliban killed hundreds of its activists ahead of Pakistan's last election in 2013.

More than 700 party workers were killed in attacks during and after the election that year, when the ANP won only two national assembly seats.

Last year, it resumed campaigning on its anti-militancy platform, holding workers' conventions and rallies in the province and the southern city of Karachi, which is home to more than 5 million Pashtuns.

At elections on July 25, the party is setting its sights on winning a few National Assembly seats and possibly more in the provincial assembly. Success would mean a modest comeback after the party won elections in 2008 to lead the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for five years.

Although violence has ebbed in Pakistan in recent years, following offensives by the army on militant strongholds in the northwest, many militants have escaped to Afghanistan, from where Pakistan says they launch attacks across the border.

"Our people are frightened ... but we have faced it all," said party official Noorullah Achakzai.

Party campaign adviser Zakir Hanif was forced to leave Karachi after his father Haji Muhammad Hanif, a senior party figure, was killed in 2011, and his family business, a small pharmacy, was bombed.

Believing security in the country has vastly improved, Hanif has now returned, hoping to revive the party's fortunes.
"Fear has eroded our lives," Hanif told Reuters. "Fear will get us if we don't take part in the elections." 


150 migrants storm border with Spain’s Melilla enclave

Updated 19 January 2021

150 migrants storm border with Spain’s Melilla enclave

  • 90 migrants managing to cross from Morocco into Melilla at a point where the border fence crosses the Nano river
  • Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish territory in North Africa, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa

MADRID: Around 150 migrants stormed the border fence separating the Spanish enclave Melilla from Morocco early on Tuesday with nearly 90 managing to cross, officials said.
The incident took place just before dawn where the fence crosses the Nano river, a spokesman for the Spanish government’s local delegation said, indicating “87 of them” got across despite efforts to stop them by the Moroccan and Spanish security forces.
It was the biggest mass attempt to cross the border fence since August 20 when some 300 people stormed the fence, although only around 30 managed to get across and one died during the attempt.
During Tuesday’s incident, nine migrants were hurt while trying to get into the tiny Spanish territory, while the rest were being registered at the migrant reception center, he said.
Interior ministry figures show that in the first two weeks of the year, 60 migrants managed to illegally cross the fence into Melilla while another 70 managed to cross into Ceuta, Spain’s other North African enclave.
Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish territory in North Africa, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.
They are favored entry points for African migrants seeking a better life in Europe, who get there by either climbing over the border fence or by swimming along the coast.
The border crossings between Morocco and both enclaves have been closed since the start of the pandemic last March.