Militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan punctuated U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's arrival with deadly attacks on Wednesday, underscoring their ability to cause chaos even in the face of offensives on both sides of the border.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan punctuated U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s arrival with deadly attacks on Wednesday, underscoring their ability to cause chaos even in the face of offensives on both sides of the border.
In Pakistan, a car bomb tore through a congested market in the northwest city of Peshawar, killing as many as 101 people, many of them women and children.
Pakistani authorities said the attack was the country’s most serious in two years, and the deadliest ever in Peshawar, which has become a front line for Taliban efforts to destabilize the government through violence.
In the Afghan capital, Kabul, Taliban suicide bombers stormed a hotel, killing five U.N. employees and three other people in a two-hour siege.
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Clinton was meeting with government ministers in Islamabad when news of the Peshawar explosion came over TV screens. Clinton immediately condemned the bombing, which in killing women and children seemed aimed at the very constituencies she has championed.
“These attacks on innocent people are cowardly; they are not courageous, they are cowardly,” Clinton said at a news conference with the Pakistani foreign minister, her voice raw with anger. “They know they are on the losing side of history. But they are determined to take as many lives with them as their movement is finally exposed for the nihilistic, empty effort it is.”
Some television stations broadcast Clinton’s remarks on a split screen — one half showing her; the other half plumes of smoke and flames.
A representative of a Peshawar shopkeepers association said he and others had received demands from militants in recent days to ban women from the market.
The car bomb exploded between two narrow lanes of Meena Bazaar and Kochi Bazaar, an area frequented by female shoppers. Most of the bodies were charred and mutilated. Hospitals said 87 bodies had been brought from the scene, where as many as three clusters of shops collapsed, and fires raged out of control.
Suicide bombings and commando-style attacks have ravaged the country in the past month, violence that Pakistani officials say is the Taliban’s answer to the government’s all-out offensive to flush them out of South Waziristan, a rugged region along the Afghan border.
While there was no evidence that the attacks were coordinated, they would most likely be traced to Taliban factions based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where Pakistani army forces have taken on a widening campaign against the militants.
The Kabul attacks were claimed by an Afghan Taliban faction headed by Siraj Haqqani, who uses his base in North Waziristan, along the Afghan border, to organize an insurgency against American and NATO forces.
No one claimed responsibility for the Peshawar bombing, but authorities said it appeared to be an attack by Pakistani Taliban militants to answer the offensive in South Waziristan.
Since the military moved into the region this month, the Pakistani Taliban have shifted their attacks from suicide bombings aimed at security installations and Western targets to more powerful and more indiscriminate bombings in urban centers intended to kill large numbers of Pakistani civilians.
“The militants want to destabilize the government and intimidate the public,” Mehmood Shah, a retired brigadier and defense analyst based in Peshawar, told GEO news network. As long as the military operation continues, he added, “We can expect such attacks to carry on.”
At a dinner for Clinton, President Asif Ali Zardari characterized the violence as an attack on Pakistan’s way of life and said there was no choice but to strike back.
Clinton responded to criticism here that the United States had drawn down its forces in the Afghan border region, allowing more extremists to flow into Pakistan.
Clinton also announced a new U.S.-financed energy program that would help Pakistan repair and upgrade aging power plants to cut down on power failures.