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More Than 100 People Killed in Bombings Across Pakistan

January 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
In Quetta, Pakistan, two suicide bombers detonated explosives within minutes of each other, and another bomb exploded in Swat Valley. In total, at least 115 people were killed and more than 270 were wounded. Ray Suarez talks to New York Times reporter Declan Walsh from Islamabad about one of Pakistan's deadliest days in years.
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  A series of bombings across Pakistan killed over 100 people today and injured scores more. 

A short while ago, Ray Suarez talked by phone to New York Times reporter Declan Walsh in Islamabad about the attacks. 

RAY SUAREZ:  Declan Walsh, welcome to the program. 

Let’s begin with the second Quetta attack, because it was the most deadly of the three.  What was the target and who’s suspected to be behind it? 

DECLAN WALSH, The New York Times:  Earlier this evening, a suicide bomber walked into a snooker club in an ethnic Hazara part of Quetta.

That’s the community which immigrated from Afghanistan about a century ago and which has suffered a series attacks at the hands of Sunni death squads over the last couple of years.  So the suicide bomber blew himself up inside the snooker hall, killing a number of people.

And then about five minutes later, just after the police and media and rescuers had arrived on the scene, a second bomber exploded his car just outside the snooker club.  That was a much larger explosion.  It collapsed the roof of the building and took the majority of the casualties. 

And, as things stand now, the police are saying that 81 people have been killed in that attack and at least 170 injured.

It's really seen as a sign of the crumbling authority of the state in some of these places and also in the rise in the strength and the boldness of some of these extremist groups, who apparently feel that they can operate...without any great danger of being caught.DECLAN WALSH, The New York Times

RAY SUAREZ:  Pakistan has been such a tense place for so long.  How much does the sectarian divide contribute to the overall violence and death? 

DECLAN WALSH:  There’s been a serious sectarian problem in Pakistan for several decades now, but it has — there’s been a marked increase in those attacks over the last couple years. 

The Hazara community in Quetta, who are a minority that are distinguished by their physical features, as well as everything else, has suffered the brunt of attacks over the last year in that particular city.  But there also have been horrific attacks on Shiite minority in Karachi, in the mountains in the north, in several cities across the country.

And it’s really seen as a sign of the crumbling authority of the state in some of these places and also in the rise in the strength and the boldness of some of these extremist groups, who apparently feel that they can operate with impunity in some of these cities and without any great danger of being caught.

Notably, in Quetta, even though there have been dozens of attacks on this same minority over the last year, there have been few to none arrests by the police and certainly no convictions in the courts to take any of those responsible for the attacks to task. 

RAY SUAREZ:  Today, there was also an attack on a Sunni mosque.  Tell us about that.

DECLAN WALSH:  There was an attack in the northwest of the country, in the Swat Valley.  That’s an area which had been controlled by the Taliban just three years ago, until the Pakistani army came in, launched a sweeping operation to push them out.

But, in recent months, we have seen the Taliban creeping back in.  A couple of weeks ago — a couple of months ago, rather, we had an attack on the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban.  And then today we had this attack on a religious congregation.  Hundreds of people had gathered to hear a religious leader speak in the main town in the Swat Valley, Mingora.

And the death toll in that attack was 22 and was seen as another sign that the Taliban are — while still not back in Swat, certainly starting to reassert their authority there. 

RAY SUAREZ:  And there was a third attack in Pakistan today, this one also in Quetta.  Who was the target? 

DECLAN WALSH:  The — earlier today, there was a bomb attack on a Pakistani paramilitary patrol in the center of Quetta.  And that attack was carried out by a Baloch nationalist group that later claimed control, that — rather, that later claimed responsibility for the attack. 

The Baloch have been — Baloch ethnic nationalists have been fighting against the Pakistani army, against the state for about seven or eight years now as part of a long-running conflict in that province.  And the Baloch want — the Baloch nationalist fighters want independence from Pakistan.  They say that they have little in common with the central state based in Islamabad, and they would like their own country.

And the Pakistan army has responded with alacrity and sometimes, human rights groups say, with brutality against those nationalist groups, but sometimes they do strike back, as they did today, in the center of Quetta. 

RAY SUAREZ:  Quetta is the capital of Balochistan.  Might this attack be totally separate, totally apart from the one that happened elsewhere in town? 

DECLAN WALSH:  Those two attacks appear to have very little in common.  It underscores what a troubled city that is. 

This is a city where you have brutal sectarian attacks against the Hazara minority.  You have ethnic Baloch attacks against the Pakistani army.  And it’s also a city where there have been persistent allegations that the Afghan Taliban leadership, often known as the Quetta Shura, has been based over the last decade, attacked — using that city to direct attacks on NATO and American soldiers inside Afghanistan. 

RAY SUAREZ:  What kind of ripple effect could this violence have more broadly for Pakistan? 

DECLAN WALSH:  This is a worrying sign for the stability of Pakistan as it enters a very sensitive period. 

Elections are due to take place within the next three or four months.  And there are many Pakistanis who worry that, if the security situation continues to spiral out of control, such as it appeared to be doing today, that this could create the circumstances where the political process could be in danger even of being derailed. 

RAY SUAREZ:  Declan Walsh, reporting from Islamabad, thanks for joining us. 

DECLAN WALSH:  My pleasure.