ISLAMABAD — Suspected militant extremists kidnapped the youngest son of Pakistan’s former prime minister Thursday in the central city of Multan, the latest in a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the campaign for the country’s general election Saturday.
Eyewitnesses said that as many as 16 men with the long, untended beards typical of religious extremists, riding in two cars and two motorcycles, attacked a rally where Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, was speaking. The younger Gilani is a candidate for a seat in the Punjab provincial legislature.
Police sealed the city to prevent the kidnappers from smuggling Gilani out of Multan, which is in a region that’s known as a center of militant extremist groups allied with the Pakistani Taliban and is about 100 miles from the notorious tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
The kidnappers shot dead Gilani’s secretary, Mohammed Mohiuddin, and wounded eight others before dragging Gilani into a black Honda sedan and fleeing. Eyewitnesses said Gilani’s clothes were splattered with blood, so he may have been wounded.
The elder Gilani was Pakistan’s prime minister from 2008 until last year, when the Supreme Court sacked him for refusing to initiate corruption proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court also banned the elder Gilani from running in Saturday’s election, but all three of his sons are candidates for the Pakistan Peoples Party, which led a ruling coalition of liberal parties until power was transferred to a neutral caretaker administration in March.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, as the Pakistani Taliban call themselves, have been targeting PPP candidates in attacks that have claimed more than 100 lives.
The elder Gilani has been among the PPP officials who are leading the party’s election campaign. Ordinarily, that role would have been assumed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 25-year-old head of the party and the son of Zardari and the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But the young Zardari was flown out of Pakistan last weekend because of threats on his life. He’ll spend election day at a family home in the United Arab Emirates, where he won’t be able to vote because no polling arrangements have been made for Pakistanis living outside the country.
Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.