KARACHI: The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday claimed credit for a bomb blast that killed twelve policemen on a bus, the latest in a series of near-daily attacks since the government called for peace talks with militants.
The explosion, which wounded almost 60 others, comes as Pakistan has been negotiating with the Taliban to end their seven-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. Senior police officials initially said the early morning blast was a suicide attack in which a small Suzuki van had smashed into the police bus. But Raja Umer Khatab, chief of the city’s counter-terrorism unit, later said the van had been parked on the hard shoulder along the bus’s route and was remotely detonated when the two vehicles were side by side.
Shahid Nadeem Baloch, police chief for Sindh, confirmed the bomb was remotely detonated, adding the death toll was 12. Doctor Semi Jamali at Karachi’s Jinnah hospital said 58 people were injured — both police on the bus and civilian passers-by. Nine of the injured police were in critical condition. The attack happened in an eastern district of Karachi near the national highway. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah announced compensation of two million rupees for families of the victims, and free medical treatment for the injured.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP it was a revenge attack for the killing of militants. “We carried out the attack against the police because they are killing our people,” he said over the telephone from an undisclosed location. “Our defensive war will continue until an agreement is reached on a ceasefire” between negotiation teams representing the government and the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban have recently stepped up their campaign against security forces in Karachi, assassinating so-called “super cop” Chaudhry Aslam earlier this year.
The attack was the 11th since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced talks on January 29 and said he wants to “give peace another chance”. Provincial officials vowed the bombing would not deter their campaign to root out criminals and terrorists. “We are investigating this attack from all angles ...The forces will not be demoralised and will work more aggressively,” said Sharjeel Memon, Sindh information minister.
Pakistan has endured a bloody start to the year with 114 people killed in attacks in January, according to an AFP tally. More than 60 people have died in militant violence since Nawaz announced the talks. On Wednesday militants stormed a house of anti-Taliban activists and shot dead nine men in Peshawar. On Tuesday a triple grenade attack on a cinema in Peshawar killed 13 people. Both government and militants says they are serious about peace talks but analysts remain sceptical about their chances of success.
Past agreements between the Taliban and the army have proved to be short-lived. In 2009 the army launched a full-fledged offensive in Swat, after a two-year local peace deal with the Taliban broke down there. The hardliners had executed men and flogged women in public during their time in control of the area.
The Pakistani Taliban announced on Wednesday an “armed struggle” against an indigenous tribe and Ismailis in the picturesque northern Chitral Valley, calling on Sunnis to support their cause in a video. The Taliban’s 50-minute long video released on February 2 on their media wing’s website opens with a scenic view of the mountainous valley. The narrator warns the Kalash, who are thought to number only 3,500, to convert to Islam or face death. “By the grace of Allah, an increasing number of people from the Kalash tribe are embracing Islam and we want to make it clear to the Kalash tribe that they will be eliminated along with their protectors, the Western agents if they don’t embrace Islam,” he says. The video also accuses international NGOs of creating an “Israel” like state in Chitral by attempting to protect the Kalash culture and take people away from Islam, and vows to foil their plans.
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