ISLAMABAD: Muslim leaders attended a rare summit in Pakistan yesterday after militant attacks killed 36 people across the country in some of the deadliest violence claimed by the Taleban for months.
The string of attacks on Shiite Muslims and police and troops underscored the immense security challenge in a country where Taleban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists bitterly oppose the US-allied government.
Twenty-three people were killed and 62 wounded overnight in Rawalpindi, the twin city of summit venue Islamabad, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were among the summit guests.
Police used lamps and torches to work through the night and confirmed the final death toll after daybreak. It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan since 29 people were killed in the northwestern district of Khyber on June 16 and the worst attack on Shiites since Feb. 17, when a suicide bomber killed 31 people in northwestern Kurram.
The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack. It also claimed an explosion Wednesday that killed two people near a mosque in Karachi, and attacks targeting security forces in the northwest which officials said left five police dead.
The Taleban has been fighting an insurgency against security forces since 2007, one of the chief reasons why Pakistan so rarely hosts international events.
“It seems the new breed of religious zealots wanted to tell the D8 dignitaries all about the mess the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been turned into,” said the country’s independent human rights commission in a statement.
But Pakistan has been determined that the Developing Eight summit will present a different image of the country as it gathers together Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan to promote trade.
The summit opened more than three hours late with an address from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan intended to hand over chairmanship of the D8 to Pakistan.
Islamabad has said it wants the summit to strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions (about the country) created in a section of international media.”
The capital was in lockdown to safeguard the event. Thousands of extra police and paramilitaries deployed and schools were closed, yesterday was declared a partial public holiday and motorcycles were banned close to government installations.
India yesterday also asked Pakistan to increase security at its Embassy in Islamabad, fearing possible demonstrations or reprisals over its execution of militant Mohammed Qasab for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The Pakistani Taleban has threatened to avenge the execution and demands that Kasab’s body be repatriated, the spokesman told AFP by telephone.
Aside from the unrest in Pakistan, eight days of violence between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas will loom large over the D8 proceedings.
Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi — who was thanked by the United States for helping to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — bowed out of the talks as his office said he would now stay home to monitor the truce.
Among nations in the D8, which was founded in Istanbul in 1997, Nigeria is the only member which is not majority-Muslim. Its population is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians.