Dual bombs kill 39 in northern Pakistan
HUSSAIN AFZAL AND REBECCA SANTANA
A pair of bombs tore through crowds of shoppers at a busy market in northern Pakistan today, killing 39 people, officials said.
The bombings struck in the town of Parachinar, which sits in the Kurram tribal area that borders Afghanistan to the west. The market was full of people hurrying to buy items for their evening meal that breaks the day-time fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Riaz Massoud, a top government official in Kurram, said the bombs killed 39 and wounded at least 70.
Dead bodies quickly overwhelmed Parachinar's hospital, as more than 100 people sought medical attention after the blasts, said Dr Zahid Hussain, who works at the hospital.
"We have no place to keep the wounded," Hussain said. "Many of them are lying on the hospital floor and on the lawn."
Liaquat Ali, another doctor in Parachinar, said some of the wounded were in critical condition.
The apparently coordinated bombs hit the main bazaar as people were doing their evening shopping before the iftar meal, police spokesman Fazal Naeem Khan said.
One bomb was believed to have been planted on a motorcycle and explosives experts were examining the site, Khan said.
The second bomb detonated about four minutes after the first, about 400 yards (365 metres) away from the initial blast, said government official Javed Ali.
One man, Said Hussain, who was in the area where the second blast struck, reported seeing a teenage boy shout "God is great!" just moments before the explosion.
"Ten people died on the spot and many were wounded," he said. "We rushed many of the wounded to the hospital in private cars."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The Kurram tribal region, like much of northwest Pakistan, has been roiled by violence for years. Taliban militants trying to overthrow the Pakistani government have carried out a vicious campaign of suicide bombings and shootings against Pakistan security forces and other targets.
Parachinar is also home to a large number of Shiite Muslims, which are a minority sect in Pakistan. Many Sunni militants do not view Shiites as true Muslims, sparking repeated fatal attacks.
Violence like today's explosions poses a stark challenge to the new government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Critics say Sharif's government has struggled to articulate a plan for stopping the bombings and shootings that occur regularly in the mountainous tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.
The new government also faces a challenge on the political front from the party that it ousted during the May parliamentary elections.
The Pakistan People's Party said today it will boycott the upcoming presidential election, saying a decision to move the vote forward by a week deprived it of enough time to campaign.
The announcement likely will have little impact on the outcome of the election, since many analysts expected the candidate nominated by the current ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, to win. But it may signal that the PPP, still the second-largest party in parliament, is going to take a more antagonistic stance toward the PML-N going forward. That could complicate the new government's efforts in solving many of the other problems the country is grappling with, such as pervasive electricity shortages, a stuttering economy and a bloody Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan's largely ceremonial president is not elected by popular vote, but by lawmakers in the Senate, National Assembly and the assemblies of the four provinces. The PML-N defeated the PPP in national elections in May, securing a solid majority in the National Assembly and Pakistan's most populous province, Punjab.
"We are boycotting the presidential election, and we are doing it because we had no other option," said Raza Rabbani, who was nominated by the PPP to run as its candidate in the presidential election. "We were not given enough time to do our campaign."
Pakistan's election commission originally set the election date as August 6. This week, the Supreme Court agreed to change the date to July 30 in response to concern by the ruling PML-N that lawmakers would be on the traditional pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia during the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The term of the current president, President Asif Ali Zardari, expires in early September. The PML-N has nominated Mamnoon Hussain, a former governor of southern Sindh province, as its candidate for president.