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Candidate's Slaying Rings Alarm Bells In Restive Pakistani Region

Pakistani police and security officials collect evidence at the site of a bomb blast in Dera Allah Yar, in Balochistan Province, on March 22.
The killing of a candidate in Pakistan's troubled southwestern Balochistan Province has provided a stark reminder of threats to the country's parliamentary elections on May 11.

Officials say unknown gunmen killed independent candidate Abdul Fatih and two relatives in the remote Jahl Magsi district on April 30.

Under a unique Pakistani election law, the killing triggers a postponement of the election in the constituency where Fatih was planning to run.

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Balochistan has been the scene in recent years of an increasingly bloody separatist insurgency that has seen thousands of separatists, soldiers, and civilians killed.

In the run-up to the elections, many politicians struggled with whether to participate or refrain from elections.

Some autonomy-minded leaders feared the Pakistani military, while others felt threatened by Baluch separatists who had vowed to target anyone taking part in the polls.

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Further killings of candidates in the vast but sparsely populated region could conceivably force postponement of the elections throughout the province. Despite making up about half of Pakistan's nearly 800,000 square kilometers of territory, Balochistan has just 14 seats in the popularly elected lower house, or National Assembly, of the parliament.

That makes elections in the province extremely vulnerable to disruption through violence.

Islamabad is deploying additional troops to thwart possible disturbances. On April 29, authorities sent additional army units to nine districts of the province considered high-risk due to a history of separatist violence.

-- Abubakar Siddique