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KHAR: A teenage suicide bomber targeting the police killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens when he hit a busy town square in Pakistan’s tribal belt on Friday, officials said.
Among the dead were the local chief and deputy in a tribal police force recruited by the government to help defeat the Taliban in the northwest. Such forces are frequently targeted by militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his chest in a bustling square in Khar, the main town of Bajaur district, near the Afghan border. Bajaur has been one of the toughest battlegrounds in Pakistan’s fight against a northwestern Taliban insurgency.
“The death toll has risen to 16. Five of them were tribal policemen,” Abdul Haseeb, an administration official in Khar, told AFP.
It was the third bomb attack in two days in Bajaur, after twin blasts killed five people — including pro-government elders and security personnel — on Thursday.
The violence highlights the insurgency in Pakistan at a time when Islamabad is under renewed US pressure crack down on militants based on its soil, such as the Haqqani network, blamed for a spectacular assault on Kabul last month.
Tariq Khan, a senior government official in Khar, said the young bomber was on foot and detonated his explosive vest when he reached a police checkpost.
“The local head and deputy of the tribal police were among the dead,” he said.
Eleven male civilians were also killed and some teenage boys are among the wounded, Khan told AFP.
It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan since March 11, when at least 15 people were killed at a similar attack at a funeral on the outskirts of Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest.
According to an AFP tally, around 5,000 people have been killed in militant attacks across the country since July 2007, when government troops raided an extremist mosque in the capital Islamabad, sparking a bloody insurgency.
Doctor Habib Khan, head of the main hospital in Khar, told AFP that 42 people had been brought in with injuries after Friday’s attack.
“The death toll may rise. We are trying our best but the condition of some of the injured is very critical,” he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The attack came two days after Pakistan went on a high state of alert for the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing by American troops, fearing a wave of revenge attacks.
Tribal police, who are recruited to help the government fight Taliban militants in the tribal belt, are frequently attacked.
The military conducted major anti-Taliban offensives in Bajaur in August 2008 and February 2009, and has repeatedly declared the district secure.
But militants have still proved able to strike.
Pakistan has lost more than 3,000 soldiers in the fight against homegrown insurgents but has resisted US pressure to do more to eliminate havens used by those fighting the Americans in Afghanistan.
The United States conducts a secretive drone war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants based on Pakistani soil, despite increasingly vocal public denunciations from the government that initially gave its tacit approval to the strikes.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have lapsed into stalemate since the covert American raid that killed bin Laden last May and US air strikes that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
Pakistan has shut down NATO supply lines into Afghanistan and last month parliament approved new guidelines on relations with the United States, which included a call for an end to drone strikes.
It remains unclear whether the impasse with Washington can be solved before this month’s NATO summit on Afghanistan in Chicago, to which Islamabad has been invited. - AFP