Attacks Test New Pakistan Government

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Islamic militants blew up a bus carrying female university students in Baluchistan Province in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday and then attacked a hospital complex where the wounded had been taken and local officials had gathered to comfort them, leaving at least 23 people dead.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned sectarian group with links to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Quetta, the provincial capital.

The violence shook the newly formed government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is trying to revive Pakistan's foundering economy while grappling with an array of militant violence.

Earlier Saturday, separatists in another part of the province destroyed a historic building that was once used by the country's founding leader. The mayhem in Quetta began when a bomb tore through a bus that was carrying students from Sardar Bahadur Khan University. The blast killed at least 14 women and wounded at least 19 others. It destroyed the bus, leaving behind a charred metal shell.

A short time later, a second explosion, believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber, struck the Bolan Medical Complex, where the wounded from the bus bombing had been taken for treatment. Gunmen forced their way into the compound, where senior Quetta officials had gathered to visit the wounded, leading to an exchange of heavy gunfire with security officers that lasted for several hours.

Late Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that security forces had stormed the hospital and regained control. Four members of the security forces died in the gun battle, and Abdul Mansoor, the Quetta deputy commissioner, and four nurses were also killed, officials said. Four of the attackers died and one was arrested, Mr. Khan said.

In the separate attack hours earlier, Baluch separatists killed a policeman and destroyed the residence once used by Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in Ziarat, about 74 miles southeast of Quetta.

Analysts said the attack on the Jinnah building, which had been designated a national monument, had symbolic importance, signifying the deep rifts in Pakistan where ethnic and nationalistic tensions are straining the national fabric.

At least five assailants attacked the building, known as Jinnah's Residency, according to government officials, using rockets and hand grenades and killing a guard. Explosions caused a fire that quickly engulfed the two-story building. The facade was made of timber and was turned to ashes. A charred bricked structure remained barely intact; television images showed the smoldering remains.

The Baluch Liberation Army, a separatist group that is fighting for the independence of Baluchistan Province, a region with abundant mineral resources and natural gas deposits, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr. Khan, the interior minister, was quoted by the local news media as saying that the attackers replaced the country's national flag at the building with the Baluch Liberation Army's banner.

"In a way, it is an attack on the very symbol of Pakistan, the man who created Pakistan," said Ejaz Haider, the editor for national security affairs at Capital TV, an Islamabad-based television network, and one of the country's most widely read columnists.

Mr. Haider compared the assault on the building to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Those attacks were against the very symbols and values of the United States," he said. "In a way, this attack is the same thing."

It occurred just days after the installation of a new nationalist provincial government by Prime Minister Sharif. "The expectation was that with a new nationalist government, other secessionists' groups could be brought in," Mr. Haider said. "With this attack, at least the Baluchistan Liberation Army has said that 'we reject the very basis of Pakistan.' "

Raza Rumi, a columnist and talk show host, said, "This is a hugely symbolic attack at the very idea of Pakistan that Baluch separatists are refusing to accept and struggling to undo."

"Baluch nationalists and separatists hold Jinnah responsible for actions against their territory," Mr. Rumi said. "After the attack, in some of the early reactions on social media, Baluch separatists portrayed the attack as a revenge for historical wrongs."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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