Suicide bomb kills six before Pakistan minister arrives

AFP , Monday 11 Jul 2011

Top local administration official says six people were killed and more than 20 others injured when a bomb exploded in a town near the Swat valley

A suicide bomber struck a public meeting in Pakistan's northwest on Monday where a cabinet minister had been due to speak, killing six people including a child.

Amir Muqam, minister without portfolio from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, had not yet arrived at the venue when the bomb exploded in a town near the Swat valley, where the Taliban once led a two-year insurgency.

"We had informed the local administration some time ago and there should have been proper security arrangements in place," Muqam told Geo television after the attack in Batgram, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of Swat.

"The death toll has now risen to six after one of the injured people died of his wounds in the hospital," police official Ghuman Hussain told AFP.

A child, two women and two policemen were among the dead, he said.

Top local administration official Khalid Khan Omarzai told AFP that more than 20 people had been injured.

"I can confirm now that it was a suicide attack. The bomber came on foot. He blew himself up when police stopped him for a body search at the entrance of the venue of the public meeting," he said.

The attack again highlighted poor security in Pakistan's troubled northwest.

"I'll certainly go there and see what happened. I'll also go to the hospital to meet the injured people. I'm not satisfied with the arrangements made for the public meeting," Muqam told Geo.

Almost simultaneously, an accidental explosion ripped through an arms depot just outside the capital Islamabad, killing one soldier, injuring three others and bringing down the roof of a small barracks, officials said.

Pakistani Taliban, other militant affiliates and Al-Qaeda-linked networks all have strongholds in the country's northwest, particularly in the semi-autonomous areas on the Afghan border.

The Pakistani military declared Swat back under control two years ago after a major air and ground offensive against local Taliban militants who had paralysed much of the former tourism destination after rising up in 2007.

Nevertheless, the district has yet to be handed back to civilian control and there are fears that insurgents are regrouping elsewhere in the northwest despite ongoing military offensives in much of the lawless tribal badlands.

Bomb and suicide attacks across the country have killed around 4,500 people since 2007 and Pakistan says it has lost thousands of troops in fighting.

In the fallout after Osama bin Laden was found and killed by US forces in Pakistan on May 2, Washington is now withholding $800 million in military aid to Islamabad, almost a third of its annual $2.7 billion in security assistance.

Relations between the key allies, always tricky, deteriorated drastically after the Al-Qaeda leader was killed in a garrison town, humiliating Pakistan over the covert US raid and the fact that bin Laden was living there.

"The truth of the matter is, our relationship with Pakistan is very complicated," William Daley, US President Barack Obama's chief of staff, told ABC television.

"The Pakistani relationship is difficult, but it must be made to work over time. But until we get through these difficulties, we'll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give."

The suspended aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border, according to The New York Times.

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