• Suicide attack on religious procession claims 59 lives, death toll likely to rise further; four soldiers martyred in Zhob
• No outfit claims responsibility; TTP denies role; minister sees RAW hand behind bombing
• Army chief says militants to face full might of state, terms them ‘proxies of enemies’
• Four of six abducted Dera Bugti footballers recovered
QUETTA: In the wake of a deadly bombing in Mastung, which claimed at least 59 lives — including several children — Pakistan has vowed to strike at the bases of terror groups, including the militant Islamic State (IS) group and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
On Friday, a suicide bomber ripped through a procession celebrating the birth of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) on 12 Rabiul Awwal in Mastung, a town about 60km southeast of the provincial capital, killing a police officer, religious leaders, and children among dozens.
Two days on, however, no militant group has come forward to claim responsibility for the bombing, prompting claims from the government that the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, was involved.
The banned TTP, in fact, distanced itself from the carnage in a statement. The Counter-Terrorism Department registered a case against unidentified persons.
Before the bomber struck the peaceful yet spirited gathering, hundreds of faithful, including kids, were present in front of Madina Mosque, carrying flags. The procession was supposed to start at 11am, and people were ready to kick start the march. But before this could happen, a suicide bomber entered the procession and exploded his vest next to the vehicle of the Mastung DSP.
“The suicide bomber reached the site by foot and waited for the arrival of clerics who were leading the procession and blew up his vest after their arrival,” a senior official of the local administration said. As a result, dozens were killed on the spot.
Eyewitnesses likened the scene of the bombing to “doomsday”. Bodies with severed heads and limbs littered the blast site, with the wounded lying in pools of blood crying for help, said Munir Ahmed Shahwani, a resident of Mastung who reached the spot soon after the explosion.
The Mastung district health officer confirmed 52 deaths on Friday, while seven injured people died during treatment at various hospitals in Quetta. “The death toll has reached 59,” Dr Wasim Baig, spokesman for the health department, told Dawn on Saturday.
Several gravely wounded were moved to the CMH Quetta.
According to Balochistan Inspector General Abdul Khaliq Sheikh, DSP Gishkori tried to stop the bomber when he detonated himself.
The heroic action of the police officer averted an even bigger tragedy, he added.
According to locals, the death toll could rise further because several dead bodies were not brought to hospitals.
Authorities said they were facing difficulties in identifying the remains of the suicide bomber, as a large number of bodies were mutilated due to the powerful blast.
Four members of a family also perished in the bombing; two brothers Sadullah, and Abdul Bari and their cousins Allah Bakhsh and Samiullah. “The slain men were the breadwinners for their families,” their kin Ali Bakhsh said between sobs.
A father and his two sons were also among the slain. Teenage Ali Hassan and his brother Salman — students at a middle school — came to attend the procession with their father and cousin Zubair, unaware of what fate had in store for them.
At a press conference following a key meeting at Corps Headquarters, Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said the government would conduct an operation “as big as needed” to restore the writ of the state.
Mr Bugti blamed the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, for involvement in terrorist activities in Balochistan. “It was decided we will strike…terrorists and would not even spare their facilitators and supporters,” the caretaker minister said.
He claimed the Islamic State had no organised presence in Balochistan in the past, however, the government will crush the banned TTP, the Islamic State, or any other group.
‘Proxies of enemies’
Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir also visited Quetta on Saturday, where he was briefed on recent terrorist attacks in Mastung and Zhob.
“These terrorists and their facilitators, having no link to religion and ideology, are proxies of the enemies of Pakistan and its people,” the army chief said in a statement.
“These forces of evil will continue to face the full might of the state and security forces… and the armed forces, intelligence and law enforcement agencies shall not rest till the menace of terrorism is rooted out from the country,” he added.
The army chief said the public has rejected the ideology of militants and is “fully committed to peace, economic progress and human development which indeed is causing a lot of distress to forces of evil in and outside of Pakistan”.
He also visited the CMH Quetta to meet the blast victims.
Meanwhile, Caretaker Chief Minister Ali Mardan Domki announced compensation for the families of the martyrs.
He also directed the postponement of the football match that was supposed to be held in Mastung.
Health Secretary Asfand Yar told the meeting that the treatment of the injured was ongoing at multiple hospitals. He mentioned that at least eight people were in critical condition.
Earlier, four security personnel were martyred and three terrorists killed in an exchange of fire between security forces and terrorists who attempted to enter Pakistan through Sambaza border area from Afghanistan in Zhob.
The ISPR said that security forces on Sept 28 thwarted an attempt of TTP terrorists to infiltrate from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
In the ensuing operation, Havildar Sattar, Lance Naik Sher Azam, Lance Naik Adnan and Sepoy Nadeem fought valiantly and embraced martyrdom.
During the exchange of fire, three terrorists were killed and a few others were wounded.
Separately, four out of six footballers, who were abducted at the start of September in Dera Bugti, have been released.
The local administration claimed that four foot-ballers who belonged to the Bugti tribe were freed and handed over to their families.
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2023