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9 Pak air force men killed in suicide attack

The latest attack comes at a time where there are strong rumours that the Govt may postpone elections, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2007 23:16 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

A suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden motorbike into a bus carrying Pakistani air force officials on Thursday, killing at least nine people and wounding 40 others, 21 of them seriously. "The bus was carrying trainee flying officers when it was attacked by the suicide bomber in the Sargodha district of central Punjab province," Brigadier Javed Cheema, interior ministry spokesman said in Islamabad.



The latest attack comes at a time where there are strong rumours that the goverment may postpone elections scheduled within three months or impose emergency in the country or both. There have been a series of high level meetings in Islamabad to deal with the situation following the rise in terror attacks. So far, the government has not come up with any strategy to postpone elections.



However, the Supreme Court has delayed its hearings on the petition challenging the decision by the election commission to accept the nomination of General Musharraf a candidate for president. This has heightened talk of an imposition of emergency in the country. Government officials, however, have publicly denied that any such move is in the pipeline.



However, the talk of an emergency being imposed was sufficiently loud for Benazir Bhutto to briefly consider even postponing indefinitely her visit to Dubai. She was scheduled to leave on Wednesday night, but left only late on Thursday. Privately party leaders said that Bhutto was fearful that if an emergency was declared when she was away, she would not be able to return to Pakistan.



"The conditions are such that the government is under great pressure," said Moinuddin Haider, a former interior minister and retired general. "The next two days may be crucial."



Police sources said that the head of the suicide attacker was found at the site of the attack. Sargodha is home to the largest air force base in Pakistan. The violence that was largely restricted to Swat and parts of the Frontier province is now gradually spilling over into the politically important Punjab province, said analysts.



There was also bad news from Swat where a ceasefire agreed between government forces and militants two days ago, broke down. Though the government refused to confirm it, reports indicated that militants had surrounded a security forces camp near the troubled Swat Valley and the lives of over 80 security men were in danger.



The ceasefire broke down in the valley on Wednesday and fresh fighting erupted early on Thursday when militants loyal to a hardline pro-Taliban cleric attacked a security checkpost, the army said. Pakistan moved 2,500 troops into Swat last week to counter radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who is also known as "Mullah Radio" for his speeches on his private radio station, in which he calls for a holy war on the authorities. He and his followers are pushing for the imposition of harsh Islamic Sharia law in the area.