Pressure piled on Pakistan as Taliban bomber kills 43 at rally
Published 04/09/2010 | 05:00
A TALIBAN suicide bomber struck a rally in the Pakistani city of Quetta yesterday, killing up to 43 people in the second major attack this week, piling pressure on a government struggling with a flood crisis.
Last night the White House condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms".
The attack on the Shia rally expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people came as the United States said the devastating floods were likely to delay army offensives against Taliban insurgents.
"Unfortunately, the flooding in Pakistan is probably going to delay any operations by the Pakistani army in North Waziristan for some period of time," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan, where he is visiting US troops.
Earlier, the al-Qa'ida-linked Taliban took responsibility for Wednesday's triple bombings in Lahore, further challenging the civilian government that is struggling to cope a month after devastating floods hit.
Aside from its battles against homegrown Taliban, Pakistan is under intense American pressure to tackle Afghan Taliban fighters who cross the border in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas to attack US-led NATO troops.
The US has stepped up missile strikes by pilotless drone aircraft against militant targets in Pakistan's Pashtun tribal lands since the start of 2010. Yesterday, a US drone fired missiles into a militant hideout in North Waziristan tribal region, killing five militants, intelligence officials said.
The Lahore blasts, which killed 33 people, were the first major attack since flood waters tore through the country.
"It's revenge for the killings of innocent Sunnis," a spokesman for Qari Hussain Mehsud, mentor of the Taliban's suicide bombers, told reporters by telephone from an undisclosed location. In another attack in the northwest, a suicide bomber killed one person outside a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, who consider themselves Muslims but whom Pakistan declares non-Muslims.
Attention has focused on the Pakistani Taliban again after US prosecutors this week charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in the plot that killed seven CIA employees at an American base in Afghanistan last December.
Islamist charities, some of them linked to militant groups, have at the same time joined in the relief effort for the millions affected by the worst floods in the nation's history.
US officials are concerned that the involvement of hardline groups in flood relief will undermine the fight against militancy in Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan.