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Former Senator Assassinated In Yet Another Targeted Attack in ISKP’s Stronghold

Published | July 03,2024

By | Nawab Ali Khattak

Former Senator Assassinated In Yet Another Targeted Attack in ISKP’s Stronghold image

The tribal district of Bajaur in Pakistan’s Northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has witnessed a significant rise in militant attacks on local politicians, religious scholars, tribal elders, and government informants over the last few years. 

A regional branch of the Islamic State, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is primarily responsible for the targeted assassination campaign in the district. 

Located on the volatile Pakistan-Afghan border, Bajaur shares a border with Afghanistan's Kunar Province, which has historically been a hotbed for militancy in the region since the Soviet-Afghan war. Some of the prominent militant figures like Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Fazlullah, Hafiz Saeed Orakzai, and Shahab Al-Mahajar have operated in the region. 

The targeting of politicians continued in Bajaur this week as well when a prominent elder and politician, Hidayatullah – who served twice as a senator and hailed from a notable political family of Pakistan's former tribal region of FATA – was killed on Wednesday, July 3, along with four others including two local elders, in an IED attack in Damadola, Mamund sub-district of Bajaur.

Hidayatullah was attacked while carrying out the election campaign for his nephew and son-in-law in the district constituency, where he was running in the by-elections scheduled for July 11.

The deceased was the brother of the former governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shaukat Ullah, and son of former National Assembly member, Bismillah Khan. 

The blast, which targeted his vehicle, is suspected to be the work of ISKP, albeit no group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. According to the local Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS), about five to seven kilograms of explosives were used in the blast. 

A local security official, while talking to The Khorasan Diary, said Hidayatullah was targeted while traveling on the Chowatra-Umrai road.

The convoy consisted of three vehicles, with the middle vehicle – a black Toyota Hilux pickup – being the target. “It appears that terrorists had prior knowledge of the senator's travel plans and targeted him specifically,” the official said. 

The official added that Hidayatullah had previously received extortion calls and was provided police security, but no recent threats had been reported against him.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) has denied involvement, stating that its focus is on security forces, not civilians. 

Following the recent attack, Bajaur has continued to be a hotspot for militancy, with ISKP emerging as the most active group in recent years.

In July 2023, the group carried out a suicide attack against Pakistan's largest religious-political party JUI-F, during a rally, killing more than 60 people. That aside, ISKP has also carried out dozens of targeted assassinations across the district.

Over the last few years, the ISKP has assassinated dozens of locals in the district, including prominent figures such as politicians, religious scholars, traders, tribal elders and government informants. The victims include Mufti Basheer Muhammad and Mufti Sultan Muhammad, both former candidates for the National Assembly, as well as Rehan Zeb Khan, a former National Assembly candidate. 

Despite the persistent wave of attacks in the district, Pakistani authorities have consistently failed to take effective countermeasures. The inaction of authorities has fuelled multiple large-scale protests and rallies by locals in the district against the deteriorating law and order situation, urging the government to restore peace in the region.

(Additional Reporting by Bilal Yasir Khan from Bajaur)