21 killed in suicide attack near Pak mosque

Islamabad: At least 21 people were killed and 45 others injured today when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in Pakistan`s restive northwestern tribal region, police said.

The attacker, who was on a motorcycle, detonated his explosive vest outside the mosque in a crowded market at Parachinar, the main town of Kurram tribal region, which has been rocked by sectarian violence over the past few years.

Officials told the media that the local hospital had received 21 bodies and 45 injured persons. An emergency was declared at the hospital.

The officials said they feared the casualties could rise as the bomber had struck at a time when the market was full of people. The bomber blew himself up before the weekly Friday prayers.

Earlier reports had said a car bomb had gone off at the market. Witnesses said several shops and vehicles were destroyed by the blast. Most of the casualties were civilians, they said.

The injured were taken to hospital by local residents in private vehicles. Security forces cordoned off the site of the attack and launched a search operation. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Officials said the attack might be linked to sectarian tensions. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen in Kurram Agency over the past four years. The situation in the region was exacerbated after Taliban fighters began backing the Sunni tribesmen.

The Pakistani President said his Iranian and Afghan counterparts and leaders of the extended neighbourhood would fight the menace of drug trafficking and terrorism.

Responding to a question about cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan in efforts to engage the Afghan Taliban rather than depending on the US to take the lead in such moves, President Karzai said: "I agree that the distance between Kabul and Islamabad is much shorter than the distance between Kabul and Washington or Islamabad and Washington."

Any "impediments" standing in the way of Pakistan- Afghanistan cooperation should be removed "sooner rather than later," Karzai said. Recent engagements between the two sides had been fruitful and led to "proper understanding of difficulties brought upon us," he added.

Karzai said both the bilateral engagements and the tripartite summit were "futuristically oriented" and led to recognition of the opportunities and dangers.
"What we need now is to formulate a policy that`s actionable and implementable and act upon it," he said.

Islamabad recently launched a fresh effort to re-engage Kabul for the reconciliation process with the Afghan Taliban when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited Afghanistan. Pakistan is keen on playing a key role in the peace process to counter what it perceives as India`s growing influence within Afghanistan.

President Ahmadinejad too said the joint declaration signed following the trilateral summit indicated the "determination of the three nations to overcome challenges and problems for the interest of the people of the region".