A senior Pakistan politician was among 21 people killed in a suicide blast at an election rally in Peshawar on Tuesday night.

Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour was about to address supporters when he was fatally wounded in the attack, which injured 65 others. Mr Bilour was taken to hospital but later succumbed to his injuries. 

Mr Bilour’s father, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, also a senior figure within the leftist secular party, was killed in a Taliban suicide blast at a party meeting in 2012. The ANP, which campaigns against the Taliban, has been a regular target of militants operating in Pakistan’s northwest. 

The Pakistani Taliban also claimed Tuesday’s attack. Its spokesman Mohammad Khurasan said the attack on Tuesday night was an act of revenge for the ANP’s rule. It vowed to carry out more such attacks and asked people to stay away from ANP rallies.

Mr Bilour’s family called on his supporters to remain calm.

"I am also ready to sacrifice my life for your rights, but I request you to exercise restraint," Bilour’s 16-year-old son Daniyal, who was wounded in the bombing, told supporters at his home. He said his father’s funeral would be held later on Wednesday.

ANP senior leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the attack was intended to derail democracy and delay the elections scheduled for July 25.

Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also condemned the attack last night. 

"All political parties and their candidates must be provided proper security during their election campaigns by the State," he wrote on Twitter. 

The news came after Pakistan’s military said on Tuesday that it would deploy more than 370,000 troops to guard the general election later this month, but rejected any suggestion it was meddling in the democratic process.

Pakistani volunteers rush an injured person to a hospital in Peshawar after the suicide bomb attackCredit:
Muhammad Sajjad/AP

Major General Asif Ghafoor told a news conference that more than three times as many troops would be deployed than in the 2013 elections, and they would be stationed inside and outside polling stations.

Campaigning has so far been dominated by allegations the military has run a multi-pronged campaign to undermine the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party of ousted former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and muzzled the media.

Sharif, who last week was sentenced to 10 years for corruption offences, says the army is trying tip the balance in favour of Mr Khan’s PTI party.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said the military would ensure the elections were free, fair and transparent.

He said: "We don’t have a political party. We don’t have a loyalty,"

Pakistan has been under military rule for nearly half of its 71-year-history. The July 25 poll is seen as a test of civilian supremacy which should see only the country’s second ever democratic transition of power.

Pakistani officials are seen at the site of a suicide bombing, carried out at an election rally in the northwestern city of PeshawarCredit:

Mr Sharif has vowed to return to Pakistan on Friday to appeal against his sentence.

Meanwhile another of Pakistan’s political giants, the former president and leader of one of the country’s main parties, Asif Ali Zardari, has been named in a money-laundering investigation, Bloomberg reported.

The Supreme Court listed Mr Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur along with 12 others as beneficiaries in an alleged scam “running into billions of rupees” that led to the arrest of Hussain Lawai, the chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange on Friday. Mr Lawai and his family  have denied any wrongdoing.

Local media said Mr Zardari would face a summons over the investigation. As the former husband of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, during the 1990s he repeatedly faced accusations of corruption, earning the moniker “Mr 10 Percent” for the allegation he took a commission on state contracts. He has always denied the allegations and his only criminal conviction was overturned.

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