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Rawalpindi: Bombing Kills 35 Near Pakistan's Capital

ASHRAF KHAN and SEBASTIAN ABBOT   11/ 2/09 06:20 PM ET   AP

Rawalpindi

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — A suicide bomb killed 35 people near Pakistan's military headquarters Monday while a second blast wounded several police, continuing a wave of terrorism that prompted the United Nations to suspend long-term development work near the Afghan border.

The rash of attacks by Islamist militants has killed at least 300 people across Pakistan over the past month – including 11 U.N. workers – and threatened to destabilize the nuclear-armed nation.

The violence has grown bloodier since the government launched an anti-Taliban offensive in mid-October, pushing into the impoverished and underdeveloped tribal region of South Waziristan. The U.N. decision to suspend non-emergency aid could weaken efforts to counter the appeal of extremism by improving ordinary people's daily lives.

The first suicide bomber Monday killed 35 people outside a bank near Pakistan's military headquarters in Rawalpindi, just a few miles (kilometers) from Islamabad.

Most of those waiting in line were from the military and were there to cash paychecks, said Mohammad Mushtaq, a wounded soldier.

"I was sitting on the pavement outside to wait for my turn," said Mushtaq, who suffered a head injury. "The bomb went off with a big bang. We all ran. I saw blood and body parts everywhere."

Four soldiers were killed in the attack and nine were wounded, said the army's chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. In total, 35 people were killed, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, though suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban.

Hours later, another suicide bombing ripped through a police checkpoint on the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore. At least seven policemen were wounded and two were in critical condition after a car with two men inside blew up as police went to search it.

"By putting their lives in danger, our men have saved the city from enormous sabotage," Lahore Police Chief Pervaiz Rathor told reporters at the scene.

Police checkpoints, where cars are forced to drive slowly past officers looking inside, have become common sights in Pakistan.

Pakistan's president and other top officials condemned the blasts but vowed to press on with the South Waziristan offensive. Taliban militants have de facto control in many of the semiautonomous tribal areas.

The U.S. has reportedly provided technical support to the South Waziristan offensive, seeing the rugged mountain area as a haven for Islamist extremists involved in attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

The government has sealed off the battle zone to outsiders, making confirmation of military reports impossible to confirm, but officials insist the offensive is going well.

On Monday, Abbas said the army had captured the Taliban town of Kaniguram and killed 12 militants in the past 24 hours.

Washington, which has long provided massive military assistance to Pakistan, has stepped up its efforts to use development aid in a broader battle against the spreading militancy. The U.S. government recently approved $7.5 billion in aid over five years to improve Pakistan's economy, education and other nonmilitary sectors.

But the U.N. decision to suspend long-term development work in Pakistan's tribal areas and its North West Frontier Province could complicate international efforts to win hearts and minds.

The world body will reduce the level of international staff in Pakistan and confine its work to emergency, humanitarian relief, and security operations, and "any other essential operations as advised by the secretary-general," the organization said in a statement.

The U.N. made its decision after losing 11 personnel in attacks in Pakistan this year, including last month's bombing of the World Food Program's office in Islamabad that killed five people, said U.N. spokeswoman Amena Kamaal. "All of the decisions are being made in light of that."

The U.N. has been deeply involved in helping Pakistan deal with refugee crises resulting from army offensives against militants – work that will apparently continue – but Kamaal said the organization was still determining which programs would be suspended and how many staffers would be withdrawn. Staff that remain in the country will be assigned additional security.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Pakistan understood the U.N.'s decision, but said he hoped the organization would resume its work after the military completes the South Waziristan offensive.

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Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad and Babar Dogar in Lahore contributed to this report.

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Filed by Hanna Ingber Win  |