Pakistani militants kill 41 in two attacks

Mon, Dec 31, 2012, 00:00

Pakistani militants, who have escalated attacks in recent weeks, killed at least 41 people in two incidents, officials said yesterday, challenging assertions that military offensives had broken the back of hardline Islamist groups.

The United States has long pressed nuclear-armed ally Pakistan to crack down harder both on home-grown militant groups such as the Taliban and on others based on its soil that attack western forces in Afghanistan. In the north, 21 men working for a government-backed paramilitary force were executed overnight after they were kidnapped last week, a provincial official said.

Car bomb

Twenty Shia pilgrims died and 24 were wounded, meanwhile, when a car bomb targeted their bus convoy as it headed towards the Iranian border in the southwest, a doctor said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said more than 320 Shias had been killed this year in Pakistan and said attacks were on the rise.

It said the government’s failure to catch or prosecute attackers suggested it was “indifferent” to the killings.

Pakistan, seen as critical to US efforts to stabilise the region before Nato forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, denies allegations that it supports militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.

At home it faces a variety of highly lethal militant groups that carry out suicide bombings, attack police and military facilities and launch sectarian attacks such as the one on the bus in the southwest.

Witnesses said a blast targeted their three buses as they were overtaking a car about 60km west of Quetta, capital of sparsely populated Baluchistan province.

“The bus next to us caught on fire immediately,” said one pilgrim, Hussein Ali (60). “We tried to save our companions but were driven back by the intensity of the heat.” Twenty people were killed and 24 wounded, said an official at Mastung district hospital.

International attention has focused on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. But Pakistani intelligence officials say extremist Sunni groups led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are emerging as a major destabilising force in a campaign designed to topple the government.

Their strategy now, the officials say, is to carry out attacks on Shias to create the kind of sectarian tensions that pushed countries such as Iraq to the brink of civil war.

As elections scheduled for next year approach, Pakistanis will be asking what sort of progress their leaders have made in the fight against militancy and a host of other issues such as poverty, official corruption and chronic power cuts.

Power struggle

Pakistan’s Taliban have carried out a series of recent bold attacks as military officials point to what they say is a power struggle in the group’s leadership revolving around whether it should ease attacks on the Pakistani state and join groups fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban denies a rift exists among its leaders.

In the attack in the northwest, officials said they had found the bodies of 21 men kidnapped from their checkpoints outside the provincial capital of Peshawar on Thursday.

The men were executed one by one.

“They were tied up and blindfolded,” Naveed Anwar, a senior administration official, said.Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan claimed responsibility for the attacks. – (Reuters)