Fears for Pakistan as blasts kill 115
by Maaz Khan
QUETTA, Pakistan, Jan 11, 2013 (AFP) - Extremist bomb attacks killed 115 people in one of Pakistan's deadliest days for years, raising concerns Friday about rising violence in the nuclear-armed country ahead of general elections.
Eighty-two people were killed and 121 wounded Thursday when two suicide bombers targeted a crowded snooker club in the southwestern city of Quetta, in an area dominated by Shiite Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority.
Extremist Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for what was the worst single attack ever on Shiites, who account for around 20 percent of Pakistan's 180 million-strong population.
It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since twin suicide bombers killed 98 people outside a police training centre in the northwestern town of Shabqadar on May 13, 2011 -- shortly after US troops killed Osama bin Laden.
Earlier Thursday, a bomb detonated under a security forces' vehicle in a crowded part of Quetta, killing 11 people and wounding dozens more.
A bomb at a religious gathering in the northwestern Swat valley killed 22 people and wounded more than 80, the deadliest incident in the district since the army in 2009 fought off a two-year Taliban insurgency.
At the snooker club the first bomber struck inside the building, then 10 minutes later an attacker in a car blew himself up as police, media workers and rescue teams rushed to the site, said police officer Mir Zubair Mehmood.
Akbar Hussain Durrani, home secretary in the provincial government of Baluchistan, said the death toll had risen to 82 with more than 120 wounded.
Nine police, three local journalists, several rescue workers and a spokesman for the Frontier Corps paramilitary were among those killed, officials said.
The snooker club was frequented mostly by Shiites, police said.
The government has announced three days of mourning in Baluchistan, and compensation of two million rupees ($20,560) to families of police officials who were killed and one million rupees to those of civilians.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility in telephone calls to local journalists. The group has links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and was involved in the kidnap and beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002.
The attacks, coupled with recent violence in the northwest, revived warnings from analysts that an Islamist militancy could threaten national elections, which are expected sometime in May after parliament disbands in mid-March.
Elections would mark the first time that an elected civilian government in Pakistan, which for decades has been ruled by the military, completes a term in office and is replaced by another democratically elected government.
"The government is completely losing control over the situation. Events are taking place one after the other. It will be very problematic to hold elections," security and political analyst, retired lieutenant general Talat Masood told AFP.
"The disturbing law and order situation will have a very adverse effect on elections. The government seems to have no plans for security and nothing is being done for the safety of people who are being killed like flies," he said.
But a senior official in the Quetta administration, Mohammad Hashim, denied that sectarian violence had any bearing on elections.
"Incidents of sectarian violence have been taking place in the country for more than a decade. It may have an affect on law and order. I don't think it will have an impact on elections. It's not political, it's sectarian," he said.
Human Rights Watch said 2012 was the deadliest year on record for Shiites in Pakistan and called the government's failure to protect them "reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens".
Baluchistan has long been a flashpoint for attacks against Shiites and Hazaras, as well as suffering from a separatist insurgency and Islamist militancy linked to a domestic Taliban insurgency concentrated in the northwest.
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