KARACHI - A brazen blast, claimed by the Taliban, on Thursday killed 13 policemen on a bus in the commercial hub of Karachi. The sabotage comes at a time when the government and the militants’ emissaries are pacing up talks to reach a truce.
The high-intensity explosion, caused by an explosives-laden van, wounded almost 60 others. Since the start of the peace talks, this is the first attack that has been claimed openly by the Taliban.
Following the blast, heavy contingents of law enforcers along with the rescuers of various welfare organisations shifted the victims to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC). Some of the victims were also taken to PNS Shifa hospital.
JPMC’s Deputy Executive Director Dr Seemin Jamali said 58 people were injured – both police on the bus and civilian passers-by. Nine of the injured police were in critical condition. “Eleven policemen were brought dead and one died during treatment,” she said. One injured died during treatment at PNS Shifa.
Deceased commandoes were identified as Mohammad Ali, Sarfaraz Ali, Ashiq Ali, Haleem Khan Jalbani, Mohammad Saleem, Yasin, Abid Sharif, Asad Hassan, Sajid Ali, Sheraz Ali, Dost Ali, Gulshan Khan and Saeed Ahmed.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah announced compensation of two million rupees for families of the each martyred policeman and Rs2 lakh for the injured cops. He also announced that treatment expense of all the injured will be borne by the provincial government.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid phoned to the media organisations and claimed the attack. “We carried out the attack against the police because they are killing our people,” he said over the telephone from an undisclosed location.
“Our defensive war will continue until an agreement is reached on a ceasefire” between negotiation teams representing the government and the Taliban. He said that at least 20 member of the outlawed TTP have been killed in a month or so in Karachi and other parts of the country. He said TTP workers were victims to targeted killings in Mardan, Swabi and Peshawar also.
The early morning attack came when the bus, with police commandos of Elite Force on board, was around 100 meters from Razaqabad Training Centre. Leaving the training centre, at Shah Latif Town area in the city outskirts, the police bus was to reach at the District Police Headquarters at Hassan Square from where cops were to be deployed at sensitive spots including Bilawal House, Governor House and CM House as per routine.
Raja Umer Khatab, chief of the city’s counter-terrorism unit, said the small Suzuki van had been parked on the hard shoulder along the bus’s route and was remotely detonated when the two vehicles were side by side. Malir SP Rao Anwar when contacted said that footage of close circuit cameras unveiled that a man parked the bomb laden vehicle at the spot at around 7:10am and it was detonated when police bus reached there.
As a result of the blast there was a long hour traffic jam at National Highway when security force cordon off the entire locality. Shifting of the victims took at least an hour or more because the police training centre is located in the city suburbs and it is at least 25 kilometres from the JPMC, rescuers said. The high intensity blast was heard in a radius of two kilometres. It also damaged three other vehicles and broke the windowpanes of the several nearby buildings.
Bomb disposal squad officials said it was a unidirectional bomb carrying around 25 kilograms of highly quality explosive. Experts believed that most of the casualties were caused by the ball bearings and pallets in the bomb and by the flying shreds of the bus and the bomb-van. “The blast was similar to the blasts that targeted the Pakistan Navy buses and CID SP Chaudhry Aslam in Karachi.
Karachi, a city of 18 million people which contributes 42 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, has also been plagued for years by sectarian, ethnic and political violence. Provincial officials vowed the bombing would not deter their campaign to root out criminals and terrorists. “We are investigating this attack from all angles ...The forces will not be demoralised and will work more aggressively,” said Sharjeel Memon, provincial information minister.
The Pakistani Taliban have recently stepped up their campaign against security forces in Karachi. The attack was the 11th since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced talks on January 29 and said he wants to “give peace another chance”. The country has endured a bloody start to the year with 114 people killed in attacks in January, according to an AFP tally.
More than 60 people have died in Islamist-linked violence since Sharif announced the talks. On Wednesday militants stormed a house of anti-Taliban activists and shot dead nine men in the northwestern city of Peshawar. On Tuesday a triple grenade attack on a cinema showing pornography in Peshawar killed 13 people.
Both government and militants says they are serious about peace talks but analysts remain sceptical about their chances of success.
Past agreements between the Taliban and the army have proved to be short-lived. In 2009 the army launched a full-fledged offensive in the northwestern hilly region of Swat, after a two-year local peace deal with the Taliban broke down there. The hardliners had executed men and flogged women in public during their time in control of the area.