Gunmen threw hand grenades at the office of a political party in Pakistan, injuring a dozen of its activists and reinforcing fears that Islamist militants might use violence to disrupt the democratic process.
The attack on the party of former sports star Imran Khan coincided with a fresh warning by security agencies that the Taliban and Islamic State could attack candidates and political leaders, officials said on Wednesday.
The overnight attack in the north-west of the country that occurred three weeks ahead of polling day on July 25 was the first incident of violence targeting the election process.
“We fear more attacks in the run-up to the election,” Mujeeb Talpur, a spokesman for the national counter-terrorism agency, said.
The agency last month said militants based in Afghanistan were planning attacks to disrupt the democratic transition in a country which remains prone to coups by the military.
Islamist militants consider democracy and elections an un-Islamic system followed by “Western infidels” and have routinely attacked political rallies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 2013, when the last elections were held in Pakistan, attacks by the Taliban killed hundreds of activists from liberal political groups and forced some parties to halt their campaigns.
“It is a worrying beginning. We fear the spread of violence,” said Mian Iftikar, the leader of the Awami National Party, hundreds of members of which were killed in bombings during campaigning last time.