Bus explosion kills 19 in northwest Pakistan
The blast ended several months of relative calm in Peshawar, a restive city perched on the edge of Pakistan's militant-infested tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. More than 50 people were in the bus, which was heading from Peshawar to the nearby city of Charsadda. Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a senior minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said authorities believed the bomb was planted inside the bus.
Among the dead were four women and a child, local hospital officials said. Television images showed the mangled frame of the bus, with a gaping hole toward the rear section. Injured passengers were rushed in trucks and taxis to hospitals in Peshawar and Charsadda.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion is likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban, the homegrown insurgent group that has its strongholds in the tribal areas and periodically carries out strikes against Pakistani security installations as well as civilian targets, including mosques and markets. Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and said it would not deter the country in its battle against militants.
The level of militant violence in northwest Pakistan has subsided in recent months as Pakistani army troops continue to uproot local insurgents from the strongholds throughout much of the tribal belt. Pakistani officials have expressed a willingness to embark on peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, but speaking to reporters in Peshawar on Friday, provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said the government cannot negotiate if militants persist in carrying out attacks.
"We are in favor of talks, but if [the militants] refuse, we will be forced to take action against them," Pakistani media quoted Hussain as saying.
-- Zulfiqar Ali
Ali is a special correspondent based in Peshawar. Staff writer Alex Rodriguez contributed to this report from Islamabad.
Photo: Security officials examine the wreckage left after an explosion aboard a bus on the outskirts of Peshawar. Credit: A. Majeed / AFP/Getty Images