At least 128 people, including Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) candidate Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, were martyred Friday when a suicide bomber blew himself up during an election rally in Mastung's Darengarh area, caretaker Home Minister Agha Umar Bangulzai confirmed.
Lashkari Raisani, the deceased Nawabzada Siraj's brother, confirmed the death of his sibling in the explosion and said: “Aslam Raisani and I are also receiving threats."
Authorities said the suicide bomber detonated in the middle of a compound where the political meeting was taking place. The blast wounded 150 people, a senior provincial government official confirmed.
Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officials confirmed that it was a suicide blast and noted that almost 16-20 kilogrammes of explosives were used in the explosion.
The bombing was the most deadly attack in Pakistan in over three years since the APS tragedy — when Taliban extremists assaulted a school in Peshawar in 2014, killing over 150 people, mostly children — and is the third incident of election-related violence this week.
It came as Pakistan’s caretaker government launched a crackdown on political gatherings.
Qaim Lashari, a senior police official, had earlier said over 1000 people were in attendance at the Mastung rally. Following the incident, an emergency was declared in Quetta hospitals, which summoned additional medical staff.
A political worker said he heard a "deafening blast" and saw a "thick grey ball of fire and smoke".
"People put... bodies and the injured in rickshaws and other vehicles and rushed them to the hospital before rescue officials arrived," he added.
Emergency workers also shuttled victims in ambulances as bystanders sobbed in the darkness due to the lack of electricity.
Survivors in blood-smeared clothes were taken to hospitals in Mastung and nearby Quetta, where they were greeted by tense crowds of mourners, an AFP reporter said.
Raisani, a candidate of the recently-formed BAP from the PB-35 constituency, was the younger brother of Nawab Aslam Raisani, a former chief minister of Balochistan. The party subsequently announced a three-day mourning period.
Back in July 2011, Siraj Raisani lost his 14-year-old son in a terrorist attack in Mastung, in which several others, including security personnel, were killed.
COAS condemns terrorist attack
Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed sorrow over the loss of innocent lives and condemned the terror attack.
"Pakistan lost a highly devoted and capable politician Siraj Raisani. Attempts of inimical forces to derail important democratic activity shall not succeed," DG ISPR Major general Asif Ghafoor quoted the COAS on Twitter
"United we all Pakistanis shall IA defeat them."
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan also condemned the terrorist attack saying that he was "saddened to learn of Nawabzada Siraj Raisani's shahadat in this targeted attack as well as the shahadat of 15 other innocent citizens".
Terrorists target candidates
Raisani is the second electoral candidate to be killed in pre-election violence this week.
Earlier in the day, the convoy of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Akram Khan Durrani was attacked in Bannu, resulting in the death of four people and injuries to around a dozen others.
Durrani, who is contesting from NA-35 (Bannu), was returning from an election rally when his convoy was hit.
Prior to that, on Tuesday, Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour was among 22 martyred in an attack on his election rally in Peshawar.
On July 7, an electoral candidate of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) Malik Shireen was among seven injured in a roadside blast in Bannu.
The roadside blast took place when the MMA candidate was heading to the venue of a rally along with supporters.
Pakistan's war on terrorism
Terrorists have targeted politicians, religious gatherings, security forces, and even schools in Pakistan. However, security across the country has dramatically improved since government and military operations cleared large swathes of territory near the Afghan border in recent years.
Last month, a US air strike killed Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in neighbouring Afghanistan in what the Pakistani army called a "positive development" that also sparked fears of reprisals.
The military, which has warned of security threats in the run-up to the tense election on July 25, said it would deploy more than 370,000 soldiers on polling day.