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Blast in Pakistan market kills 8; US drone strikes

Blast in Pakistan market kills 8; US drone strikes
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First Published: Sun, Jun 14 2009. 04 20 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Jun 14 2009. 04 20 PM IST
Dera Ismail Khan: A bomb blast in a market killed eight people in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, the latest in a wave of attacks since the army launched an offensive against Taliban militants.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is struggling to push back a growing Taliban insurgency and security forces have made progress in more than a month of fighting against militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad.
The militants have responded with a string of bombs in towns and cities.
Separately on Sunday, a suspected US drone aircraft fired a missile in the South Waziristan region, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, killing three militants travelling in a vehicle, a witness and officials said.
The bomb in a market in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan killed eight people and wounded 25, a government official said.
“The initial probe suggests that the device was planted in a push-cart parked in the middle of the market,” Syed Mohsin Shah, the top government official in the city, told Reuters.
Rising violence has raised fears for Pakistan’s stability and for the safety of its nuclear arsenal but the offensive in Swat has reassured the United States, which needs its Muslim ally’s help to defeat al Qaeda and stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.
The United States, alarmed by the deteriorating security in Afghanistan, has been using drone aircraft to attack Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in northwestern Pakistani militant strongholds.
The drone strike on Sunday, the first since 16 May, was in Laddah, in South Waziristan, about 60 km north of the region’s main town of Wana.
“The missile destroyed the vehicle and I saw three bodies lying next to it,” ethnic Pashtun tribal leader Habibullah Mehsud told Reuters by telephone from the region on the Afghan border.
A government official in the region confirmed the attack, saying drones had been flying over South Waziristan since early morning. The identity of the dead militants was not known.
Though a staunch US ally, Pakistan objects to the US missile strikes saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster militant support.
Pakistani warplanes struck another Mehsud stronghold in south Waziristan on Saturday in retaliation for the killing of an anti-Taliban cleric in a suicide bomb attack in the city of Lahore the previous day.
The air strike killed 30 militants, including few foreigners, and wounded 50,the military said in a statement on Sunday.
Independent casualty estimates are not available.
US officials said last week Pakistan looked set to mount a significant offensive against Mehsud’s forces in South Waziristan.
In the past week, the military has stepped up attacks in several parts of the northwest in what analysts see as a bid to keep the militants distracted and to “soften up” their positions.
Residents in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border to the northeast of Waziristan said aircraft bombed militants in several villages on Sunday but there were no reports of casualties.
Security forces also fired artillery in the same area late on Saturday, killing nine Taliban fighters, intelligence officials and residents said.
The fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest has displaced about 2.5 million people and aid officials have appealed to donors to step up their help.
The public largely backs the government in its war on the Taliban but support could evaporate if civilians are seen to suffer unduly.
On Thursday, the US House of Representatives approved tripling aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years to help combat extremism through development. Pakistan is now the biggest recipient of US aid.
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First Published: Sun, Jun 14 2009. 04 20 PM IST