A suicide blast claimed at least 20 lives, including that of Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Barrister Haroon Bilour, and wounded scores of others when a bomber blew up himself late Tuesday ahead of a corner meeting here.
The explosion occurred in YakaToot neighbourhood moments after Bilour arrived at the venue, near the stage, to address supporters at the meeting as welcoming party members and admirers engaged in a display of fireworks, which the bomber made use of as his cover.
The late ANP candidate was set to contest the July 25 elections from Peshawar's PK-78 constituency.
At least 65 other people were wounded in the explosion, and 15 of those were in a critical condition.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which marks the first major pre-election instance of violence. Live television footage showed volunteers and police rushing the wounded to hospital.
Immediately after the explosion, Qazi Jamil, the capital city police officer (CCPO) for Peshawar, put the death toll from the blast at 11, which, over the new couple of hours, rose to 20. Nearly eight kilogrammes worth of TNT explosives were used in the blast, he added.
The Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) confirmed that the blast was a suicide attack.
The son of Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a senior ANP figure who, himself, was martyred in a suicide blast back in 2012, Haroon was rushed to the hospital in a critical condition but succumbed to his wounds shortly after.
The ANP was the main target of Taliban attacks in the 2013 election.
Earlier, Zulfiqar Ali Babakhel, a spokesperson for the Lady Reading Hospital, confirmed the death toll from the blast and said 35 wounded people were brought to the hospital.
Further, spokesperson, while confirming Haroon Bilour's martyrdom, informed media that the deceased's son, Danial Bilour, was safe.
The martyred ANP leader's body was returned to his residence a few hours later, with funeral prayers scheduled to be held later today, at 5 PM, in Wazir Bagh.
'Weakness of security institutions'
Speaking about the incident, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retired) Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan condemned the terrorist attack and termed it a "weakness of security institutions".
The attack was a conspiracy against the transparent elections, the CEC said, noting that the provincial governments were ordered to provide fool-proof security to all candidates.
On the other hand, ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the government had failed to provide security to the party.
"Perhaps someone wishes to sabotage the elections … wants to push ANP out of the electoral race," he said.
However, the "ANP will fully participate in the elections", he added.
Condemnations pour in
Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk and the heads of various political parties denounced the attack on the ANP corner meeting.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said terrorists were making futile attempts to hinder the way of democracy.
The militants, however, "failed yesterday and they will fail today too", he added.
"Bilour family has suffered the worst terrorist violence & rendered sacrifices for Pakistan. Basheer Bilour Shaheed was a brave leader who was martyred 6 years ago. Son of Haroon Bilour is reported to be critically injured along with others. Pray for his & others' early recovery," the former CM Punjab added.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has expressed sorrow over the deaths of Haroon Bilour and other ANP workers. In his message on Twitter, Khan condemned the terrorist attack on ANP corner meeting.
The PTI chief called for the provision of security to all political parties and their candidates during their election campaigns
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed sorrow over the martyrdom of Haroon Bilour. He said it was becoming clear as to who terrorists wanted out of the election race.
"The terror attack on pro-democracy individuals is a conspiracy," Bilawal said, adding that they shared in the grief of the Bilour family. "The nation should be aware of the fact as to what do terrorists wish."
Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP's co-chairman and former president of Pakistan, said the Bhutto family and his party grieved together with the ANP.
Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chief Mustafa Kamal said those, who had their hands coloured with the blood of innocents, did not deserve to be considered as humans.
He called the authorities for bringing the perpetrators of Peshawar blast to justice.
War on terrorism
Peshawar city sits on the edge of a region bordering Afghanistan that has long been home to extremists.
While the violence in Pakistan decreased in recent months after several military offensives against their strongholds in the region, many terrorists escaped to neighbouring Afghanistan, from where Islamabad says they launch attacks.
Last month, a US drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who had claimed responsibility for most of the attacks against the ANP in the 2013 election on the grounds that it had supported operations against the militants.
The Pakistan Army announced on Tuesday it would deploy over 371,000 troops to ensure peaceful and fair and free elections on July 25.