Pakistani politician Imran Khan Sunday blamed a rival political leader for the killing of a senior member of his party, who was gunned down outside her home in the violence-plagued city of Karachi.
The killing of Zohra Hussain, 59, vice president of the women's wing of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Sindh province, came on the eve of a partial re-run in the southern city of the May 11 election.
Security was tight for Sunday's re-polling in one constituency following allegations of ballot-stuffing, with troops, police and paramilitary rangers backed up by armored personnel carriers.
Around 150 people were killed in the run-up to national elections held last week, which handed a landslide victory to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party.
It marked the first time an elected government replaced another one in a nation that has been run by military leaders for more than half its history.
Results from a handful of constituencies are still awaited amid accusations of vote-rigging. The shooting came hours ahead of re-polling in a key area beset by allegations of voting fraud.
It was not immediately clear who killed Zara Shahid Hussain, a senior member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. The PTI has promised to reduce endemic corruption in the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.
The PTI’s leader, former international cricket star Khan, was quick to pin the blame on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which represents the Urdu-speaking majority, and specifically its boss, Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London.
“I hold Altaf Hussain directly responsible for the murder as he had openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts,” AFP reported Khan as saying on his Twitter feed, describing the killing as “a targeted act of terror.”
“I also hold the British Govt responsible as I had warned them abt Br citizen Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers,” he said, adding that he was “shocked and deeply saddened by the brutal killing.”
MQM leader Hussain is wanted on murder charges in Pakistan and leads his party remotely from exile in England. His party is designated a terrorist organization by Canada, a charge it strongly denies.
In recent days he gave a speech which many Pakistanis felt was an incitement to attack political rivals. The British police have been flooded with complaints demanding an investigation.
The MQM leader insisted his words were taken out of context. MQM leaders held a press conference within hours of Hussain’s death to disclaim responsibility and demand a retraction from Khan.
Firdous Shamim, a local PTI leader, told AFP that Hussain “was leaving her home for some work when three gunmen attacked her. She thought they wanted to snatch her purse and handed it over to them but they killed her.”
Police said all three gunmen escaped after the attack.
“They shot her with one bullet near her chin and she could not survive,” senior police official Nasir Aftab told AFP.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Khan’s party, Jamal Siddiqui, claimed Shahid was killed to sabotage a re-vote scheduled to be held in Karachi on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.
Khan’s election campaign electrified many Pakistanis, pushing the PTI from a marginal party with no seats in the legislature to become Pakistan’s third largest party.
National polls held a week ago gave the MQM 18 out of 19 national assembly seats in its power base in Karachi. Re-polling is due to be held Sunday in the final constituency, thought to be a stronghold of PTI, after many polling stations failed to open on election day.
The steamy port city of Karachi is Pakistan’s financial heart and home to 18 million people. It typically sees about a dozen murders a day, a deadly combination of political killings, attacks by Taliban and sectarian militant groups, and street crime.