Pakistan in mourning after deadly attacks

15Jan

Pakistan is in mourning after one of the bloodiest attacks in the nation killed 105 people, eclipsing a peace mission by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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The carnage caps a month of escalating bloodshed in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation where a full security alert was unable to stop a car bomb blowing up a Peshawar market, leveling buildings and slaughtering shoppers.

Many of those killed in the city, which neighbours Pakistan’s Al-Qaeda and Taliban-infested tribal belt, were women and children, in what has been seen as a calculated attempt to tarnish Clinton’s mission to bolster the government.

There was no claim of responsibility but a barrage of attacks has forced Pakistan to send 30,000 troops into battle against homegrown Taliban fighters who have operated with impunity from South Waziristan, on the Afghan border.

“A total of 105 people have been killed. Seventy-one of them were identified. Thirteen are children and 27 were women,” Doctor Zafar Iqbal told AFP at the Lady Reading Hospital. There were 217 registered wounded.

UN condemns attack

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led international outrage over the “appalling” attack, launched shortly after a Taliban assault on a UN-approved hostel in the Afghan capital killed at least eight people.

At grief-stricken funerals in this conservative city of 2.5 million dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, anger mounted at the barbarity of an attack that killed women and children indiscriminately.

“My brother and father had nothing to do with Taliban or the army, so why were they killed? We got their bodies back in pieces. It was almost impossible to recognise them,” a weeping Saddiq Khan told AFP.

Three days of mourning

Shops and markets closed for three days of mourning and most families shuttered themselves indoors, with schools already closed over security fears.

The blast, the most serious since an attack targeting ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto killed around 140 people in October 2007, underscored the gravity of the extremist threat destabilising the nuclear-armed Muslim state.

The carnage, coupled with America’s bloodiest month in Afghanistan, stoked political demands in the United States for President Barack Obama to take swifter action on deploying more troops.

“The president of the United States needs to make this decision and soon. Our allies are nervous and our military leadership is becoming frustrated,” Republican Senator John McCain told CBS.

Clinton in Pakistan

Clinton, whose three-day visit to Pakistan is designed to fend off fierce criticism of US policies and bolster the government, expressed solidarity and addressed concerns about more militants infiltrating from Afghanistan.

“We’re trying to use new technology and new counterinsurgency methods, along with the Pakistani military, to actually do a better job. And weGÇÖre actually putting more troops, not fewer, on the border,” she said in a TV interview.

Clinton, who says the United States wants to “turn the page” on its relationship with Pakistan, travelled to the country’s cultural capital Lahore to press her charm offensive in order to counter rising anti-Americanism.

Mission in Pakistan

Much of her diplomacy has been focused on denying Pakistani opposition and military fears that a record 7.5 billion-dollar aid package imposes conditions on Pakistan and violates its sovereignty.

“Nobody is saying you must take this money so that we can help you rebuild your energy sector or put more kids in school or provide better maternal and child health,” said Clinton in a hint of growing impatience.

“What is regrettable is this misunderstanding, from my perspective… if Pakistan doesnGÇÖt want the money, weGÇÖre not going to impose it on you.”

She unveiled 215 million dollars for energy investment and 85 million dollars for poverty but the attack overshadowed the most high-profile US visit since President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the heart of the war on Al-Qaeda.

A rising number of audacious attacks has shown Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists can target anyone in their furious backlash against the US-led “war on terror” that has killed more than 2,370 people since July 2007.

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