By Gad Masereka
Officials reported that a bombing on Sunday at a political gathering of a hardline Islamic party in northwest Pakistan resulted in at least 39 fatalities and numerous injuries.
In the town of Khar, close to the Afghan border, the explosion targeted the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) party, where more than 400 members and sympathisers had gathered beneath a tent.
Riaz Anwar, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s health minister, told AFP, “I can confirm that in the hospital we have 39 dead bodies, with 123 wounded, including 17 patients in a serious condition.” The number of fatalities was confirmed by the provincial governor to AFP.
Social media images from the blast location showed dead lying around the area and volunteers carrying victims covered in blood to ambulances.
Although no one has taken responsibility for the attack, the local branch of the Islamic State (IS) organisation has recently attacked JUI-F. Last year, IS claimed responsibility for brutal attacks against clerics connected to the party, which operates a vast network of mosques and madrassas in the country’s north and west.
The jihadist group accuses JUI-F of being a hypocritical religious Islamic organisation because it has backed numerous administrations and the armed forces. Since the Afghan Taliban retook control of the neighbouring Afghanistan in 2021, there has been a substantial increase in attacks in Pakistan.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a branch of the Taliban originating in Pakistan, has targeted police officers in their campaign. More than 80 police officers were killed in Peshawar, Pakistan’s northwest, in January when a suicide bomber with ties to the Taliban detonated himself inside a mosque inside a police post.
The insurgent attacks have mainly targeted areas that border Afghanistan, and Islamabad claims that some of them are being plotted on Afghan land, a claim that Kabul refutes. Located in a territory that was once a focal point of the worldwide war on terror, Bajaur is one of seven isolated districts that border Afghanistan.
Bombings used to occur virtually every day in Pakistan, but a significant military clearance operation that began in 2014 mostly brought the country back to normal. After legislation was passed in 2018, security has subsequently improved as Pakistani officials have taken control of the northwest.
According to analysts, since the Afghan Taliban made a comeback, terrorists in the once tribal regions close to Peshawar and bordering Afghanistan have grown more confident.
Political parties are getting ready to campaign as Pakistan’s government is set to dissolve in the coming weeks in advance of elections that are anticipated to take place in October or November.