Imran Khan blames rival for murder of politician Zahra Shahid Hussain in Pakistan amid continuing dispute over poll rigging

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Imran Khan has blamed a political rival based in Britain for the murder of a politician from his own party who was shot dead outside her house in Karachi on Saturday night.

Zahra Shahid Hussain, a lecturer and the head of the Pakistan Movement for Justice’s Karachi women’s wing, was killed by gunmen who tried to snatch her purse. Police officer Sarfraz Nawaz said it could have been a targeted killing made to look like a robbery.

Mr Khan blamed the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for the murder, a charge they have angrily denied. The movement’s leader, Altaf Hussain, leads his party from exile in London. He also directed his anger at the UK authorities.

“I hold Altaf Hussain directly responsible ... as he openly threatened PTI [Mr Khan’s party] workers and leaders through public broadcasts,” Mr Khan wrote in a tweet. “I also hold the British government responsible as I had warned them about ... Altaf Hussain after his open threats.” 

The timing of the murder has triggered widespread claims that it was carried out to intimidate voters from Mr Khan’s party ahead of the repolling in some parts of Karachi’s well-heeled Defence Housing Authority neighbourhood.

Supporters of Mr Khan’s party, which won the second highest number of votes nationally and the third highest number of seats, allege that in at least one constituency in Karachi and one in Lahore, they were victims of rigging. In Karachi, their principal opponents were the MQM. For days, young activists have held sit-down protests in both cities.

Mr Khan’s critics say that his party is refusing to accept defeat after suffering exaggerated hopes of a victory. In Punjab, the most populous province, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won an overwhelming number of seats with hefty margins.

European Union election observers have said that, for the most part, the elections were conducted fairly. As is typical of all Pakistani elections, there were some irregularities where candidates could take advantage of a situation.

A Punjab bureaucrat said one old favoured tactic is “go slow”. Where a queue of an opponent’s voters forms, the polling officials reduce the flow of votes to a trickle. Impatient voters lined up at the back of the queue begin to disperse.

Some cruder antics were apparent. Mobile phone videos broadcast on television showed officials stamping several ballots without a voter present. A candidate from the hardline Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam reportedly ran away with ballot boxes in a northwest constituency.

In rural areas, some votes are alleged to have been changed after polling ended. “The returning officer told them to break the seals,” said Fakhr Imam, a PMLN candidate who lost by around 10,000 votes.

Affidavits from seven polling officials, seen by The Independent and submitted to the Election Commission, say that they were “instructed” by the returning officer in Kabirwala, southern Punjab, to tamper with sealed bags of ballots.

On the night of the election, television stations showed Mr Imam leading the count in his constituency. The official result was not released until 36 hours later, when he was declared the loser.