PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan’s northwest was on Sunday reeling from a wave of violence as the toll from a car bomb rose and the army hit Taliban hideouts in an offensive that has sent a million civilians fleeing.
The number killed in a devastating car bomb that hit the northwestern city of Peshawar on Saturday reached 12 after a teenage boy died overnight, a police official said, while 36 people have been reported wounded in the attack.
The blast ripped through a packed street, leaving severed body parts on the road near an ice cream shop and an Internet cafe.
Many of the tide of refugees fleeing a punishing three-week military offensive in swathes of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) had taken refuge from the bombardment in Peshawar, the provincial capital.
“One of the seriously injured of yesterday’s blast died in the hospital at night,” Peshawar police official Khan Abbas told AFP, adding that four children, two women and six men were killed in the car bombing.
Peshawar is the gateway to Pakistan’s troubled tribal belt on the Afghan border, where the United States says Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists have carved out safe havens to plot new attacks on the West.
Under pressure from Washington as Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, Pakistan security forces began heavy offensives late last month in the Lower Dir, Buner and Swat districts.
Military officials claim that nearly 1,000 militants have been killed in the bombardment, although such tolls are impossible to independently verify and there is no data yet on civilians casualties in the battle-torn areas.
On Sunday, security officials who did not want to be named said forces were carrying out targeted strikes on Taliban bolt-holes in Swat and Lower Dir.
“Security forces are targeting militant hideouts and helicopter gunships are hovering in the air,” said one security official.
“Helicopter gunships shelled militants’ hideouts at Matta town (in Swat), the stronghold of the Taliban,” another military official added.
A curfew remains in place in most of the areas beset by heavy fighting, leaving hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the conflict area, UN officials have said, without medical care, electricity, food or water.
The UN refugee agency said more than 1.1 million people have fled the fighting and registered with authorities since May 2, in a displacement that officials fear is the worst here since partition with India in 1947.
They join another 500,000 people who fled bouts of fighting in the northwest last year, where extremist Taliban militants have been battling to widen their area of control and impose a harsh brand of Islamic law.
“It is really the worst situation in Swat, the worst I have seen in my life. I have no words to explain it,” said Salman Khan — not his real name — who arrived in Peshawar from Swat’s main town Mingora on Saturday.
“My children are still crying and screaming. I lost my home, my business, my village,” the 42-year-old said.
Also Sunday, the death toll from a suspected US missile strike in the northwest’s semi-autonomous tribal region of North Waziristan near the Afghan border rose to 28, security officials said.
The United States has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda, but Pakistan publicly opposes drone attacks, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace.