Muslim leaders gathered for a rare summit in Islamabad on Thursday as militant attacks killed 37 people across the country on one of the deadliest days of violence claimed by the Taliban in months.
The string of attacks on Shiite Muslims and Pakistani security forces underscored the immense security challenge in a country where Taliban and al Qaeda-linked extremists bitterly oppose the US-allied government.
Twenty-three people were killed and 62 wounded overnight in Rawalpindi, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan are chief among the summit guests.
Police said a suicide bomber struck a procession of Shiite Muslims who were commemorating the holy month of Muharram, which is frequently targeted by sectarian extremists.
“There are three main groups that are operating against us. One is anti-Shia, another is anti-military,” conceded interior minister Rehman Malik, who announced that there will be restrictions on the usage of mobile phones and motorcycles on Saturday and Sunday which are the two most important days on the Shia community calender.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, another explosion that killed two people near a Shiite mosque in Karachi, and attacks targeting security forces in the northwest.
The government has assured there is a comprehensive plan in place to protect the processions but many have expressed their doubts.
“It’s a very bad plan. I fear more deaths from attacks that could be avoided,” said Jameel Yousuf, a security expert.
Calls to seek help from the army were turned down on Thursday when army chief General Kayani said that he had faith in the work being done by the paramilitary.
But Pakistan has been determined that Thursday’s Developing Eight (D8) summit will present a different image of the country as it gathers together Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan to promote trade. The government wants the summit to strengthen its standing abroad.
Morsi cancels Pakistan visit
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has bowed out of a scheduled visit to Pakistan, where he was due to attend the Developing Eight summit in Islamabad, the Pakistani government confirmed Thursday.
Morsi — who was thanked by the US for helping to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas — had been slated to join the talks but state TV in Egypt said he would now stay home to monitor the truce.
In Pakistan, officials said they did not know why Morsi was not coming, but that VP Mahmud Mekki had come instead.
“I don’t know the reason for the change of plans at the 11th hour,” a foreign ministry official said.
Pakistan, which wants to use the D8 to improve its international standing, had welcomed Morsi’s prospective visit as the first by an Egyptian head of state in four decades.
(With AFP inputs)