Market bombing in Pakistan leaves 100 dead, 200 injured
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PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The site of the latest spasm of violence to strike Pakistan -- a car bomb attack that killed 100 people -- wasn't surprising. Perched on the fringe of Pakistan's Taliban-infested badlands along the Afghan border, Peshawar has been hit several times by bombings that have claimed scores of lives this year.
But the target yesterday marked a disturbing twist in the Islamic militants' agenda -- a bustling market that catered to women, many of them with children in tow.
The blast, fueled by an estimated 220 pounds of explosives, ripped through the Meena Bazaar, a warren of fabric stalls, cosmetics shops and clothing stores that teems with women on afternoon shopping trips. More than 200 more people were injured in the explosion, the deadliest terror strike ever in the city of 3 million.
Several buildings along the market's narrow street were leveled, and the act that shook a country already made weary by a monthlong campaign of violence that has now claimed at least 280 lives.
At Lady Reading Hospital, wards were filled with women who were badly wounded, some with their injured children in the next beds.
"There was a massive blast, and then the roof of the fabric shop I was in fell on me," said Sameena, 18, who suffered a broken leg and broken hand. Like many Pashtun Pakistanis, she uses one name. "I saw shops burning, smoke and dead bodies everywhere, many of them women. These people are inhuman. They want to keep women inside homes. And they want to kill women."
The attack overshadowed the first day of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's three-day visit to Pakistan to discuss the ongoing fight against militants and to counter growing anti-American sentiment.
At a news conference in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, Mrs. Clinton called yesterday's violence "cowardly."
"We feel strongly that the extremists and terrorists who deploy such violence have to be defeated wherever they are," she said. "This is a fight that cannot be avoided."
An unrelenting series of suicide bombings and commando-style attacks has ravaged the country in the last month, a wave of violence that Pakistani officials say is the Taliban's answer to the government's decision to mount an all-out offensive to flush out the militant group from South Waziristan, a rugged, underdeveloped region along the Afghan border.
Pakistani military leaders say the offensive, which includes 30,000 ground troops supported by air strikes from fighter jets and helicopter gunships, has made hard-fought advances into Taliban-held territory. On Saturday, troops seized control of the village of Kotkai, hometown of Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mahsud and Qari Hussain, a top deputy responsible for training suicide bombers. The military claims that it has killed more than 230 militants in 12 days of fighting. At least 29 soldiers have died since the offensive began Oct. 17.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have followed through on their promises to unleash a vicious wave of attacks aimed at eroding support for the offensive. The strikes included a bold assault on the Pakistani army's headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi Oct. 10 that killed 14 security officers and civilian workers.
Speaking alongside Mrs. Clinton at the Islamabad news conference, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the wave of retaliatory strikes will not deter Pakistan from continuing its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan. "The resolve and determination will not be shaken," he said. "People who carry out such heinous crimes want to shake our resolve. I want to address them: We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan."
In making her first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton was hoping to allay fears among Pakistanis that a $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan recently approved by Congress would not be used by Washington as a means of exerting control over the nuclear-armed state.
The aid package, signed into law Oct. 15 by President Barack Obama, rankled Pakistan's military, which bristled at wording in the bill that called for greater civilian supervision over the military as a prerequisite for the aid.
Both Mr. Qureshi and Mrs. Clinton talked of the need to expand the U.S.-Pakistani relationship beyond the war on terror, so that it encompasses revitalization of Pakistan's economy and infrastructure, particularly the country's dilapidated electricity generation and distribution network.
First Published October 29, 2009 12:00 am