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Following the attack on senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader and PK-78 candidate Haroon Bilour on Tuesday night at an election gathering in Peshawar, voters took to social networking websites to condemn the unfortunate incident and the lack of security being provided to political leaders in the election season.

Shahid Khattak (@Shahidkhattak0) wrote:”Shocked to hear about the sad demise of Haroon Bilour. ECP and state institutions must provide security to all political parties to ensure level playing ground for elections. In these sad moments, we stand with ANP and Bilour family. Rest in peace.”

A day [on Monday] before the attack, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had revealed the names of six personalities — including Imran Khan and Hafiz Saeed’s son—who could be targeted by terrorists during the ongoing election campaign.

“Six people include Pak­istan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Awami National Party leaders Asfandyar Wali and Ameer Haider Hoti, Qaumi Watan Party head Aftab Sherpao, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl leader Akram Khan Durrani and Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha Saeed. Moreover, there are threats to senior leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,” Nacta director Obaid Farooq had said while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Interior.

Nacta had also forwarded 12 threat alerts to the federal interior and provincial home ministries as well as law enforcement agencies.

Despite the warning, the lack of initiative on the caretaker government’s part to ensure that the contesting candidates were safe was deplored on political Twitter under the hashtag #HaroonBilour, which was among the top trend on Wednesday as well.

Shocked to hear about the sad demise of Haroon Bilour. ECP and state institutions must provide security to all political parties to ensure level playing ground for elections. In these sad moments, we stand with ANP and Bilour family. Rest in peace. @Shahidkhattak0

Zia Ur Rehman (@zalmayzia) tweeted: “Nacta, the counter-terrorism body, had already warned the federal govt that several politicians, especially those belonging to ANP, are facing security threats. #HaroonBilour”

“The deadly bombing came a day after Nacta warned that almost all leading politicians belonging to almost all mainstream political parties are facing serious security threats. Even after this warning, no security was given to #HaroonBilour. Why?” wrote @tehreemazeem.

For the past few days, a picture of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan leader Maulana Khadim Rizvi showing the cleric leaving the airport in tight security has been doing the rounds on social media.

Twitter user @ammarawrites was quick to draw a comparison of his security protocol with that of leaders under threat. “In Pakistan, hate-mongering fanatics like Khaadim Rizvi get top-notch security while those whose party workers, leaders and family members are consistently being targeted receive mere condolences from the security apparatus. #HaroonBilour #ANP #PeshawarAttack,” she wrote.

Earlier during the Nacta meeting, committee chairman Senator Rehman Malik had recalled that the incident of pelting PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s rally [in Karachi’s Lyari area] with stones showed that there were serious security lapses which could be ignored in the prevailing situation.

Eiswan Ali Kazmi (@eiswan_ali) lamented: “Very unfortunate and cowardly way of showing hatred over political difference. Other political leaders and @ImranKhanPTI Especially should take security measures during campaign. Its wise to say NO to VIP culture but you also have the right to protect yourselves #HaroonBilour.”

Given the volatile political climate, besides the security of political parties, the safety of voters and supporters in rallies and polling vicinities is at risk as well.

“I said it before and i am saying it again. Withdrawing security detail of politicians months before the General Elections was a bad idea. They have not only put lives of these politicians at risk but also the people who come at these political gatherings,” regretted @SirJohnRoe.

However, retired Lt Gen Ghulam Mustafa @ GhulamMustafa was quick to clarify on his official account that the “CJ had withdrawn only unnecessary and unauthorized security to cut down VIP Culture. Had explicitly told authorities to ensure requisite measures where needed. Targeting him for tragic death of Haroon Bilour is a malicious propaganda only. #PeshawarBlast.”

A day after the attack and outcry on social media over the matter, a meeting was held Nacta Headquarters in Islamabad to review and coordinate security efforts for the July 25 general elections.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018