GUNMEN shot and kidnapped the son of a former Pakistani prime minister yesterday during the final, hectic hours of campaigning before Saturday’s historic general election.
Ali Haider Gilani, 27, was snatched in a hail of gunfire on the outskirts of Multan, a city in Punjab. One of his aides was shot dead and five more wounded.
Meanwhile, former cricket star turned politician Imran Khan ended his campaign from his hospital bed, to which he has been confined since fracturing his spine in a fall. He delivered a deeply emotional speech by video link to tens of thousands of supporters in Islamabad.
Saturday’s poll is a momentous episode moment in Pakistan’s turbulent history. For the first time an elected government has completed a full five-year term and will hand over power at the ballot box.
However, any sense of celebration has been stifled by a campaign marked by dozens of gun and bomb attacks which have left more than 100 people dead.
The Pakistan Taleban has threatened to disrupt polling and has targeted Mr Gilani’s Pakistan People’s Party for its liberal, secular stance.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for his abduction, although kidnapping for ransom or to settle disputes is common in rural Pakistan.
Police said they believe Yousuf Raza Gilani, the former prime minister forced from office a year ago, was the target of the attack. Instead the armed men snatched his youngest son, wounding him in the process, according to some witnesses.
His elder son Ali Musa spoke to reporters in tears after the abduction. “We want our brother back tonight. If we don’t get him, we will not allow elections to be held in our area,” he said.
The kidnapping is the latest twist in a chaotic election campaign, which has seen one of its leading candidates badly injured in a bizarre accident and the governing PPP’s challenge all but evaporate.
Doctors yesterday announced that Mr Khan, who is expected to make a breakthrough in this year’s election, will make a full recovery but are not allowing him to leave his bed.
It is a bitter blow to his energetic attempt to oust what he sees as a corrupt elite, growing rich on power. He has attracted millions of first-time voters but now must wait and see whether his exhilarating rallies and personal appeal – plus a sympathy vote – will translate into seats in the National Assembly.
Thousands of his supporters converged on Islamabad yesterday for his party’s final event before the official end of campaigning at midnight.
Mr Khan delivered a rousing speech despite being propped on pillows and looking tired.
He mixed his personal story with his dream of building a new Pakistan, describing the sacrifices he made during 17 years in the wilderness.
“I pay my gratitude to all those people who stood with me during these 17 years, believing that one day our country would be ready for change. Today that day has come,” he said.