December 3, 2008

20 die in Pakistan, Afghan militant attacks

MILITANTS in north-western Pakistan yesterday attacked trucks ferrying supplies to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United States (U.S.) forces in Afghanistan, killing nine people and destroying a dozen vehicles.

Also in Afghanistan, eight civilians and two police officers died after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a crowded market in southern Afghanistan.

The Associated Press (AP) yesterday quoted Helmand Province police chief Asadullah Sherzad as saying that the bomber targeted a police vehicle in the market.

Sherzad said 25 civilians and two police were also hurt in the attack and several shops were destroyed.

The spasm of violence comes amid a spike in tensions between Pakistan and rival India over last week's terror attacks in Mumbai, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistani militants.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks and vowed to crack down on the perpetrators if New Delhi provides evidence. But there are fears that tensions could nevertheless boil over between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The attack on the U.S.-led coalition trucks took place at a terminal in Peshawar, which sits along the supply route from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The city has seen an upsurge in violence in recent weeks, including the slaying of an American working on a U.S.-funded aid project.

Several gunmen fired rockets and automatic weapons at the Faisal terminal, killing a driver and a clerk and destroying 12 trucks, said police officer Ahsanullah Khan.

An AP Television News reporter saw two Humvee military vehicles on board the trucks that were on fire following the attack.

Up to 75 per cent of the supplies for Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. Earlier this month, suspected Taliban militants hijacked several trucks carrying Humvees near the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan halted traffic along the road for several days while it arranged for armed troops to guard the slow-moving convoys.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the north-western border region are blamed for rising attacks in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan, where violence is running at its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Pakistani security officials at the weekend, said they would withdraw troops from the volatile north-west if India were to mobilise its forces close to the Pakistan border following the Mumbai attacks, an alarming scenario for the West as it tries to get Islamabad to focus on the al-Qaeda threat.

Pakistani troops are battling the insurgents in at least two regions, including the Swat Valley, the scene of yesterday's suicide attack.

The bomber detonated his car while queuing up at the checkpoint, a military officer at the Swat media center said on customary condition of anonymity.

"Two passengers vehicles received the major thrust of the explosion and were badly smashed up," he said.

Police officer Dilawar Bangash said eight people were killed and 40 wounded.

The identities of the dead were not known.

Meanwhile, shooting and violence continued in parts of Karachi, the largest city and commercial hub of Pakistan, raising the death toll to 32 in three days of violence.

Riots yesterday forced authorities to close all educational institutions and postpone university exams as ethnic and political gangs clashed in different neighbourhood.

City Police Chief Waseem Ahmed said 32 people were killed and 55 injured.

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