Blast rips through rally in Pakistani city of Quetta, 44 dead

September 04, 2010, Saturday/ 16:27:00/ REUTERS
A blast ripped through a rally in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday, killing at least 44 people, the second major attack this week, piling pressure on the civilian government struggling with a flood crisis.The attack on the Shiite rally called to express solidarity with the Palestinian people came as the United States said that Pakistan’s devastating floods are 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 Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan where he is visiting US troops. More than 100 people were wounded in the blast in Quetta.

Earlier the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban took responsibility for triple bombings at a Shi’ite Muslim procession in the city of Lahore this week, challenging the civilian government further.

Aside from its struggles against homegrown Taliban, Pakistan is under intense American pressure to tackle Afghan Taliban fighters who cross the border to attack US-led NATO troops.

Pakistan has said the army would decide when to carry out a full-fledged assault in North Waziristan, where Washington says anti-American militants enjoy safe havens, at the time it considers appropriate. Wednesday’s blasts in the eastern city of Lahore in which 33 people were killed was the first major militant attack since floods waters tore through the country over the past month.

“It’s revenge for the killings of innocent Sunnis,” a spokesman for Qari Hussain Mehsud, mentor of the Taliban’s suicide bombers, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. Attention has focused on the Pakistani Taliban again after US prosecutors charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in the plot that killed seven CIA employees at an American base in Afghanistan last December. Mehsud, believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan, was charged with conspiracy to kill Americans overseas and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The renewed violence suggests the Taliban are trying to hit the government as it struggles to cope with the floods, which have made millions homeless, destroyed infrastructure and crops and hammered the economy. Charities 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 hard-line groups in flood relief will undermine the fight against militancy in Pakistan as well Afghanistan.

Pakistan is also faced with economic catastrophe, with the floods causing damage the government has estimated at $43 billion, or almost one quarter of the South Asian nation’s 2009 GDP.

Some relief has come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It will give Pakistan $450 million in emergency flood aid and disburse funds in September to help the country’s economy cope with the devastation of the floods.

Talks in Washington with a delegation led by Pakistan’s Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on the terms of an $11 billion IMF loan program left him satisfied with the country’s commitment to reforms, the IMF chief said. Under the 2008 IMF loan program, Islamabad pledged to implement tax and energy sector reforms and give full autonomy to the State Bank of Pakistan.

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