Leaders of D-8 countries—Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pose for a photograph after conclusion of the eighth D-8 summit in Islamabad.
ISLAMABAD: Muslim leaders attended a rare summit in Pakistan yesterday after militant attacks killed 36 people across the country in some of the deadliest violence claimed by the Taliban for months.
The string of attacks on Shias and police and troops underscored the immense security challenge in a country where Taliban and Al Qaeda linked extremists bitterly oppose the US-allied government.
Twenty-three people were killed and 62 wounded overnight in Rawalpindi, the twin city of D8 summit venue Islamabad, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were among the guests.
Police said a suicide bomber struck a procession of Shias who were commemorating the holy month of Muharram, which is frequently targeted by sectarian extremists in Pakistan.
Police used lamps and torches to work through the night and confirmed the final death toll after daybreak. Eight children were among the wounded.
It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan since 29 people were killed in the northwestern district of Khyber on June 16 and the worst attack on Shias since February 17, when a suicide bomber killed 31 people in northwestern Kurram.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. It also claimed an explosion on Wednesday that killed two people near a Shia mosque in Karachi, and attacks targeting security forces in the northwest which officials said left five police dead.
In two other attacks for which no one claimed responsibility, militants attacked a police post yesterday on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing one police official and abducting another.
In the southwestern city of Quetta on Wednesday an army vehicle escorting children home from school was targeted, killing four soldiers and a woman.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, referring to the suicide bombing, said that Shias are “defiling the Prophet”.
The Taliban has been fighting an insurgency against security forces since 2007, one of the chief reasons why Pakistan so rarely hosts international events.
“It seems the new breed of religious zealots wanted to tell the D8 dignitaries all about the mess the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been turned into,” said the country’s independent human rights commission in a statement.
But Pakistan has been determined that yesterday’s Developing Eight (D8) summit will present a different image of the country as it gathers together Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan to promote trade.
The summit opened more than three hours late with an address from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan intended to hand over chairmanship of the D8 to Pakistan.
Islamabad has said it wants the summit to strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions (about the country) created in a section of international media”.
The capital was in lockdown to safeguard the event. Thousands of extra police and paramilitaries deployed and schools were closed, Yesterday it was declared a partial public holiday and motorcycles were banned close to government installations.
India yesterday also asked Pakistan to increase security at its embassy in Islamabad, fearing possible demonstrations or reprisals over its execution of Pakistani militant Mohammed Kasab for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Aside from the unrest in Pakistan, eight days of violence between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas will loom large over the D8 proceedings.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi -- who was thanked by the United States for helping to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas -- bowed out of the talks as his office said he would now stay home to monitor the truce.
Among nations in the D8, which was founded in Istanbul in 1997, Nigeria is the only member which is not majority-Muslim. Its population is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians.