Four Pakistani paramilitary guards were killed Sunday when a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up in the southwestern city of Quetta, police said.
The bomber targeted Frontier Constabulary guards in the Mian Ghundi neighbourhood of the city — around 140 kilometers (87 miles) from the frontier with Afghanistan — where Hazara Shiite merchants were trading vegetables.
Three died immediately in the blast, with another officer dying later of his wounds, said Azhar Akram, a deputy inspector general of police.
Akram told AFP that 17 guards and two civilians were wounded in the blast. Three are in a critical condition, he said.
A spokesman for the police’s Counter-Terrorism Department confirmed the attack.
Beijing said nine Chinese workers were among 12 people killed Wednesday by a bomb attack on a bus in northwestern Pakistan and called for severe punishment, but Islamabad blamed the explosion on a “gas leak”.
The bus was carrying around 40 Chinese engineers, surveyors and mechanical staff to a hydropower dam construction site in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Islamabad is Beijing’s closest regional ally, but the security of Chinese workers has long been of concern in Pakistan.
Large numbers of them are based in the country to supervise and build infrastructure projects.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry in a statement said the bus “plunged into a ravine after a mechanical failure, resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast”.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed his “shock and condemnation over the bombing”.
He urged Pakistan to “severely punish” those responsible and “earnestly protect” Chinese nationals and projects.
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad also earlier said its nationals had come under “attack”.
Both countries said nine Chinese workers and three Pakistanis had died in the disaster which happened at around 7 am.
Arif Khan Yousafzai, a senior government official in Kohistan district where the blast happened, said around 28 people were also injured.
They were airlifted to hospital by the military, officials said.
Pakistan authorities said an investigation was under way.
Construction of the Dasu dam on the Indus River began in 2017 and was scheduled to be built within five years, according to the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority.
In April, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide blast at a luxury hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador, who was unhurt, in southwest Balochistan.
The group has recently claimed a string of attacks — not only in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas along the Afghanistan border, but also in the country’s cities, including the capital, Islamabad.
Beijing has poured billions of dollars into Pakistan in recent years to boost the country’s infrastructure.
But Chinese-funded projects have sparked resentment, particularly among separatist groups, who say locals see little benefit, with most jobs going to outsiders.
In 2019, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Balochistan overlooking a flagship Chinese-backed project — the deep-water seaport in Gwadar that gives strategic access to the Arabian Sea — killing at least eight people.
And in June 2000, Baloch insurgents targeted the Pakistan Stock Exchange, which is partly owned by Chinese companies, in the commercial capital of Karachi.
At least 43 people were killed and dozens injured Monday when a packed Pakistani inter-city train ploughed into another express that had derailed just minutes earlier, officials said.
Several people were trapped for hours in the mangled wreckage left by the collision near Daharki, in a remote part of rural Sindh province, before rescue workers with specialist equipment could reach them.
Huge crowds from nearby villages gathered around the carnage of the overturned Pakistan Railways carriages, with twisted and shredded metal scattered across the ground, along with piles of luggage.
On Monday evening army and civil engineers led a mass effort to clear and repair the tracks, with one official saying they hoped the line would be open by midnight.
The double accident happened around 3.30am (22:30 GMT) when most of the 1,200 passengers aboard the two trains would have been dozing.
“We tumbled upon each other, but that was not so fatal,” Akhtar Rajput, a passenger on the train that derailed, told AFP.
“Then another train hit us from nowhere, and that hit us harder. When I regained my senses, I saw passengers lying around me, some were trying to get out of the coach.”
“I was disoriented and trying to figure out what happened to us when the other train hit,” Shahid, another passenger, told AFP.
The Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Lala Musa when it derailed, its carriages strewn over the tracks as the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi arrived minutes later in the opposite direction, smashing into it.
Most of the dead were pulled from the derailed train, officials said.
Umar Tufail, a senior Daharki police officer, said 43 people were killed and dozens injured.
A spokesman for Pakistan Railways put the toll at 33, but communications with the crash site were difficult because its remote location.
One rescue worker described having to stand on top of his vehicle to get a phone signal.
Local farmers and villagers were the first to join passengers in trying to pull survivors from the crumpled carriages, reaching into broken windows and roof hatches.
A clip aired on a local channel showed medics giving an intravenous drip to a conscious passenger whose lower torso was trapped between crushed carriage benches.
The dead were laid out in rows on train seat benches and covered in traditional scarves.
The accident happened on a raised section of track surrounded by lush farmlands.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, a former railways minister, said the track where the accident occurred was built in the 1880s and described it as “a shambles”.
Current minister Azam Swati described the section of railway as “really dangerous”, but said authorities had been waiting to upgrade the network with funding from the multi-billion dollar China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
“In case there is a delay (with funding), we will rebuild this track with our own money,” he said.
The Pakistan army and paramilitary rangers from nearby bases were at the site to help.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked” by the accident and promised a full inquiry.
Gul Mohammad, who works with the Edhi Foundation ambulance service, said communication problems were hindering the coordination of the rescue efforts.
“I am talking to you as I stand on the rooftop of my ambulance for better signal,” he told AFP.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the network has seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
The majority of train passengers in Pakistan are working-class people who cannot afford the quicker bus journeys.
More than 300 people were killed and 700 injured in 1990 when an overloaded 16-carriage inter-city train crashed into a stationary freight train near the city of Sukkur in Sindh.
More recently, at least 75 people died when a train caught fire while travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi in October 2019.
The rest of the transport sector does not fare much better, with two major passenger plane crashes in the past five years and thousands of road accidents.
The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country, after violent anti-France protests paralysed large parts of the country this week.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email to French citizens.
“The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”
Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed — deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani government moved to ban an extremist political party whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.
Two police officers died in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.
The TLP are notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.
But successive governments have a long history of avoiding confrontation with hardline Islamist groups, fearing any crackdown on religious parties could spark wider violence in the deeply conservative Islamic republic.
“We are in favour of protecting the Prophet’s honour, but the demand which they are seeking could have portrayed Pakistan as a radical nation worldwide,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference on Wednesday.
Macron’s comments in September triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.
TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill at the time.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
On Twitter, the hashtag “#FrenchLeavePakistan” was trending with 42,000 tweets as of Thursday afternoon.
Weeks after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons, its former offices in Paris were attacked by a Pakistani man who stabbed two people.
At the time, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the French president of attacking the Muslim faith and urged Islamic countries to work together to counter what he called growing repression in Europe.
In an address to the United Nations, Khan, a populist leader who has been known to play to Pakistan’s hardline religious base, blasted Charlie Hebdo for re-publishing the cartoons, saying “wilful provocations” should be “universally outlawed”.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested positive for Covid-19, his office said Saturday, just two days after he was vaccinated against the disease.
The diagnosis comes as the country grapples with a deadly third wave of a virus that has already killed nearly 13,800 people from more than 620,000 infections — although limited testing suggests real figures are likely much higher.
“At this point, the prime minister’s office can only confirm that the honourable prime minister has tested positive for Covid-19 and has self-isolated,” his office said.
The 68-year-old received a shot of the Chinese-produced Sinopharm vaccine on Thursday — one of over a million doses donated to Pakistan by Beijing.
Earlier Saturday, Khan’s adviser on health said the increase in positive virus cases over the past few days was “an alarming situation”.
The impoverished nation of 220 million has largely avoided the kind of major lockdowns seen in other countries, instead opting for “smart” containment policies which see neighbourhoods closed off for short periods.
Soon after the pandemic started Khan told the nation in an address not to panic, saying “97 per cent of patients fully recover”, but he chided citizens just months later warning: “People are not taking it seriously.”
Pakistan has blocked video sharing app TikTok for a second time, after a court ordered the platform shut down over “unethical and immoral content”.
Wildly popular among young Pakistanis, the Chinese-owned app was briefly banned last year on the same grounds by the ultra conservative Islamic country’s telecommunications agency.
“Pakistan Telecom Authority(PTA) has issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok app,” it said Thursday following the court order earlier in the day.
The app has previously been blamed by one of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s advisers for promoting the “exploitation, objectification & sexualization” of young girls.
Peshawar High Court, in the country’s northwest, ordered the app to be banned immediately over videos “contrary to ethical standards and moral values of Pakistan,” Sara Ali Khan, the lawyer who sought the ban, told AFP.
The app was not accessible in Pakistan on Thursday evening.
Four female aid workers were gunned down Monday in a restive part of northwestern Pakistan, police said, as a fresh wave of extremist violence rattles the Afghan borderlands.
The aid workers were ambushed by two gunmen as they were driving through a village in North Waziristan district, according to local police chief Shafiullah Gandapur, who said just one passenger survived the assault.
“No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far but it was surely an act of terrorism,” he told AFP.
Power was gradually being restored to major cities across Pakistan Sunday after it was hit by a massive electricity blackout, officials said.
The electricity distribution system in the nation of more than 210 million people is a complex and delicate web, and a problem in one section of the grid can lead to cascading breakdowns countrywide.
The latest blackout was caused by “an engineering fault” in southern Pakistan at 11:41 pm local time on Saturday (1841 GMT), which tripped the system and caused power plants to shut down, power minister Omar Ayub Khan told a press conference in Islamabad.
“Our experts are trying to determine the exact location of the fault.”
Khan said that will take “another few hours as the area is still covered in dense fog”, but that power had been partially restored in most areas of Punjab, the most populous province, as well as the economic hub Karachi in the south.
“We hope to bring the system back to its full capacity by this evening, but it will take some time for nuclear and thermal power plants to get operational,” Khan tweeted.
People were cracking jokes and exchanging memes on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, mostly ridiculing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and its performance after the breakdown.
“Power breakdown in Pakistan is blackmailing Imran Khan,” tweeted Musarrat Ahmedzeb in reference to the premier’s recent statement accusing Shiite protesters of blackmailing him after killing of 10 miners.
“What a start for the new year… let us seek Allah the Almighty’s mercy,” read another tweet, while a message on WhatsApp said: “new Pakistan sleeps in a night mode”.
There were no immediate reports of disruption at hospitals, which often rely on back-up generators.
Netblocks, which monitors internet outages, said web connectivity in the country “collapsed” as a result of the blackout.
Connectivity was at “62 percent of ordinary levels”, it said in a tweet.
This was Pakistan’s second major power breakdown in less than three years. In May 2018, power was partially disrupted for more than nine hours.
In 2015, an apparent rebel attack on a key power line plunged around 80 percent of Pakistan into darkness.
That blackout, one of the worst in Pakistan’s history, caused electricity to be cut in major cities nationwide, including Islamabad, and even affected one of the country’s international airports.