Historic market bombed in Pakistan

A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images - Pakistani shop owners gather at the site of a bomb explosion in the city of Peshawar on September 29, 2013.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A car bomb tore through a centuries-old market in Peshawar on Sunday, killing at least three dozen people in the third major attack on the city in a week.
With the death toll expected to rise, at least 100 people were also injured in the midday explosion at Qissa Khawani Bazaar, known as the market for “story tellers.”
The market in Peshawar’s “old city” is located not far from All Saints Church, where 85 people were killed a week ago in what is believed to be the worst attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history. That attack was followed by a bus bombing Friday on the outskirts of town, which killed 18 government workers who were rushing home for Friday Muslim prayers.
The attacks in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, are fueling deepening mistrust between residents and government leaders over how best to restore order. The city of 1 million people appears to be bearing the brunt of militant attacks aimed at undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans to hold peace talks with the country’s Taliban insurgency.
And with each new attack, a negotiated peace appears less likely, as Sharif’s critics back away from their earlier support for such talks.
“This is a shocking development, and the latest wave of terrorism has forced the people to review their thinking,” said Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, member of the National Assembly and a former chief minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Another member of the National Assembly, Farhatullah Babar, said there is a growing sense that peace talks amount to “appeasement.”
It “has backfired and emboldened the militants not only to step up their attacks but also mount an assault on the basic structures of the state,” he said.
Qissa Khawani Bazaar was once the hub of Northwest Pakistan’s spice and tea trade. According to local historians, travelers dating back as far as 1 or 2 B.C. would stop there to listen to story tellers.
During the colonial era in the early 20th century, the market was also the site of a bloody crackdown by British troops in 1930, known locally as the “Qissa Khwani massacre.”
The market, which remains a tourist draw, now primarily consists of fruit stands and clothing stores.
According to local officials, the street was packed with shoppers when the car bomb detonated about 11 a.m. Several nearby buildings reportedly collapsed, and hospital officials say there are so far 38 confirmed fatalities.
One witness told reporters he was watching a mother and father buy juice for their children when the car exploded.
“I fear the whole family might have been killed,” he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Sunday on the market. Last week, a splinter wing of Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for sending two suicide bombers to the Protestant church, saying it was in protest of continued U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
On Sunday, a few hours before the bomb in the market, a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles on a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal area, killing 4 suspected militants, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
The officials added they are still trying to determine the identities of those killed, but the area has become a haven for militants who cross the border to carry out attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
On Friday, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sharif urged the U.S. to cease the drone strikes.
“The use of armed drones in the border areas of Pakistan is a continued violation of our territorial integrity,” Sharif said. “It results in casualties of innocent civilians and is detrimental to our resolve and efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism from Pakistan.”
In a statement Sunday, Sharif said the attack on the market was carried out by people who are “devoid of humanity and all religions.” He added “barbaric acts” will “not deter the government’s resolve to ensure peace in the country.”
But Taliban leaders are signaling they have no plans to meet Sharif’s government in negotiations, even if he succeeds in eliminating U.S. drone strikes.
In a rare public statement, a senior Taliban leader said Friday peace talks “would never be successful” because the group’s goal of imposing strict Islamic law in Pakistan is non-negotiable.
“We will never move one inch back of our demand for enforcement of Sharia (law), and if any Taliban commander compromises on this demand, we will not support him," said Umer Khalid Khurasan, commander of Taliban fighters near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
He added, the “army wants us talking within the constitution, but our plan is to replace the existing constitution.”
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/historic-market-bombed-in-pakistan/2013/09/29/737f6eac-28f8-11e3-b141-298f46539716_story.html


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