RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) – A suicide bomber killed 30 people outside a bank near Pakistan’s capital Monday, as the U.N. said spreading violence had forced it to pull out some expatriate staff and suspend long-term development work in areas along the Afghan border.
Islamist insurgents have carried out numerous attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks, killing some 250 people in retaliation for an army offensive in the Pakistani Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, also along the frontier shared with neighboring Afghanistan.
Several U.N. personnel have been among those killed, and the organization’s decision to suspend development work could imperil Western goals of reducing the allure of extremism by improving Pakistan’s economy.
Monday’s attack in Rawalpindi, a garrison city just a few miles (kilometers) from Islamabad, occurred as many people waited outside the National Bank on pay day to could collect their salaries.
The bank is close to the army’s headquarters, and a majority of the people waiting in line were from the military, said Mohammad Mushtaq, a soldier wounded in the attack. Militants raided the headquarters last month in a siege that lasted 22 hours and left 23 people dead.
“I was sitting on the pavement outside to wait for my turn,” said Mushtaq, who suffered a head injury. “The bomb went of with a big bang. We all ran. I saw blood and body parts everywhere.”
One panicked father who was near the bank when the explosion occurred said he was unable to find his son in the aftermath of the attack.
“I parked my car in the bank car park, and my child was sitting inside,” Mohammad Saleem told AP Television News. “Now they’re not giving me permission to go and look, and I don’t know where my child is.”
The attacker rode a motorbike to the scene, and the 30 people killed included military personnel, Rawalpindi police chief Rao Iqbal said. Some 45 others were wounded. “The bodies were lying all over,” said Ali Babar, a rescue official who was doing a refresher course at a nearby college and rushed to the scene to help. “This is a terrible thing. It is happening again and again.”
Pakistan’s president, prime minister and other top officials condemned the blast but vowed to continue the offensive in South Waziristan, an impoverished and underdeveloped tribal region next to Afghanistan where Al Qaeda is believed to have hide-outs.
The U.S. supports the operation because it believes South Waziristan is a safe haven for Islamist extremists involved in attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.
Washington has also stepped up its efforts to use development aid in a broader battle against spreading militancy. The U.S. government recently approved $7.5 billion in aid over five years to improve Pakistan’s economy, education and other nonmilitary sectors. But the U.N. decision to suspend long-term development work in Pakistan’s tribal areas and its North West Frontier Province could frustrate Washington’s goal.
The U.N. made its decision after losing 11 of its personnel in attacks in Pakistan this year, including last month’s bombing of the World Food Program’s office in Islamabad that killed five people.
U.N. workers were also among the 11 killed in a June suicide bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the main northwest city of Peshawar, and a veteran U.N. official was shot dead while resisting kidnappers at a northwest Pakistan refugee camp in July.
The world body will reduce the level of international staff in the country and confine its work to emergency, humanitarian relief, and security operations, and also “any other essential operations as advised by the secretary-general,” the organization said in a statement. The U.N. has been deeply involved in helping Pakistan deal with refugee crises that have popped up due to army offensives against militants in the northwest. The organization also operates a wide range of programs that address everything from agriculture to education to governance.
U.N. spokeswoman Amena Kamaal told The Associated Press that the organization is still determining which programs will be suspended and how many staffers will be withdrawn from the country. She said “long-term development” applied to programs with a five-plus year timeframe. The staff that remains in the country will be assigned additional security, she said. “We have had 11 of our colleagues killed because of the security situation,” Kamaal said. “All of the decisions are being made in light of that.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Pakistan understood the U.N.’s reasoning, but that he hoped the organization would resume its development work after the military completed its operation in South Waziristan. “We hope that our operation will come to an end soon, and they will resume their normal operations,” he said.