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Series of gun attacks in southern Pakistan kill 34 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) – A slew of gun attacks in Pakistan’s biggest city killed at least 34 people, officials said Thursday, further rattling a country already tense over a military offensive against Taliban militants in a district near the capital.

The unrest came as President Barack Obama said he was “gravely concerned” about Pakistan’s stability and described its government as “very fragile” although he did express confidence that the country’s nuclear arsenal was safe from militants.

Pakistan’s president urged the public to support the army’s offensive against Taliban fighters so that Pakistan would remain “a moderate, modern and democratic state.” Ethnic tension was the suspected spark for the gun attacks Wednesday in Karachi, a teeming southern port city with a volatile history. Much of the tension has been between the Pashtun population, who dominate the country’s militant-infested northwest, and Urdu-speakers descended from migrants from India. The latter are in large part represented by the political party that runs the city, the Muttahida Quami Movement. The MQM has been outspoken against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and has warned that the militants represent a growing threat in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub.

The city was largely crippled Wednesday after two MQM activists were gunned down by unknown shooters, sparking street violence that went on late into the night. Paramilitary rangers roamed the city’s trouble spots Thursday, as hospital doctors and police said the death toll had reached 34, with about 50 others injured. There was concern that tensions could flare again during funerals set for later in the day.

Officials and politicians resisted blaming groups beyond criminals.

“Criminals and the mafia want to put the city’s peace on the stake, but all the peaceful citizens should come up to counter such designs,” MQM leader Altaf Hussain said from London, where he is in self-exile. The rangers arrested more than 25 suspects in the shootings, said Maj. Aurang Zeb, a spokesman for the security forces. He added that educational institutions were ordered shut.

The military, meanwhile, continued with an offensive against Taliban militants in Buner, a district some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Islamabad.

The army said Wednesday that it had retaken the main town in Buner and that more than 50 Taliban fighters and one member of the security forces died in the offensive. Militants were holding dozens of captured police and troops hostage.

Troops backed by jet fighters and helicopter gunships were moving toward militant strongholds in the Ambela and Pir Baba areas, an army official said Thursday. The troops were facing resistance at Ambela and some other areas, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. Taliban fighters from the Swat Valley entered Buner earlier this month fresh off a peace deal with the government. The military launched the offensive there Tuesday under strong U.S. pressure.

President Asif Ali Zardari urged Pakistanis to unite against the Taliban.

“The time has come for the entire nation to give pause to their political differences and rise to the occasion and give full support to our security forces in this critical hour,” Zardari said in a statement late Wednesday.

“This is the only way to demonstrate our will to keep Pakistan as a moderate, modern and democratic state where the rights of all citizens are protected,” he said. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the Taliban could only be defeated by a common strategy shared by Pakistan and Afghanistan as well the U.S. and NATO, an elusive goal to be pursued when Zardari and his Afghan counterpart visit Washington next week.

U.S. leaders sharply criticized Zardari’s decision to sign a law imposing Islamic law in Swat and the surrounding Malakand region in an attempt to secure peace.

Defenders of the pact say the Islamic law concession will isolate hard-liners bent on destabilizing the country and bolster thin public support for a crackdown.

Sufi Muhammad, a conservative cleric who mediated the deal, will denounce Taliban who refuse to lay down their arms as “rebels” if officials rein in the army and install Islamic courts, Muhammad’s spokesman said Thursday.

The Obama administration, determined to stop militants from using Pakistan as a base for attacks in Afghanistan, is asking Congress for more money to aid the Pakistani army.

In a news conference Wednesday marking his first 100 days in office, Obama said Pakistan was potentially unable to deliver basic services to its population such as health care and education.

Still, Obama expressed absolute confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal will be secured, “primarily, initially” because he said he believes Pakistan’s army will do the job. But he left the door open for U.S. action if necessary.