PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Bombs exploded in bustling sections of two troubled Pakistani cities Friday, leaving at least 19 people dead in the latest round of violence to mar government efforts to initiate peace talks with insurgents.
In Peshawar, near the northeastern tribal areas that border Afghanistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a market on the city’s outskirts as worshipers were gathering for prayers. Nine people were killed and 30 injured, police and hospital officials said.
Police official Najeebur Rehman said the bomber struck a police armored personnel carrier that was parked in Serband Bazaar, a town near the volatile Khyber Agency tribal area. Four officers were among the injured.
Nearly 400 miles away in Quetta, at least 10 people were killed and 31 wounded when a bomb planted on a bicycle exploded in front of a college on a busy road, police said. Most of the victims were riding in a passenger bus but officials said the target could have been a vehicle belonging to the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which had passed by the spot just moments before the blast.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, is home to ethnic Baluch insurgent groups fighting for an independent state
The Baluch insurgency is distinct from the northern Pakistani militant groups that are loosely organized under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, whose goal is to establish Islamic law in Pakistan, and whose central leadership has agreed to begin peace talks with the government in Islamabad. Although few Pakistanis are optimistic about the talks, Friday’s violence underscored that any peace effort stands little chance of appeasing all of the various insurgent groups that carry grievances against the Pakistani state.
The 2-month-old effort to begin negotiations has exposed divisions inside the Pakistani Taliban, which is separate from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some militant factions, little known until recently, have expressed their opposition through deadly violence. The leaders of the federation – known by the Urdu name Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP – declared a cease-fire earlier this month, but attacks have continued, including a brazen raid on a judicial complex in Islamabad on March 3 in which 11 people were killed.
Friday’s bombing “reflects a weakness of the TTP, showing a lack of unity in its ranks,” said Intikhab Amir, a Peshawar-based journalist who closely tracks militant groups in the region.
“This could be used by the government negotiators to put pressure on the TTP,” Amir added. At the same time, it indicates that any deal the TTP reaches with Islamabad stands little chance of being observed by splinter groups.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, which briefly suspended the peace effort last month after militants reportedly executed 23 paramilitary soldiers in their custody, has resumed efforts to push the talks forward. On Thursday, two negotiators nominated by the TTP met with the group’s central leadership in Miram Shah, in the North Waziristan tribal area.
Pakistan’s powerful military has refrained from criticizing Sharif over the negotiations, but the bombing in Peshawar appeared to be the latest to target the country’s security forces. “We believed that bomber planned to attack police forces,” Rehman, the police official, said.
Doctors at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital said that women and children were among the dead and wounded.
Twelve-year-old Kamran Khan, who was injured in the bombing, said that he had parked his hand cart at the bazaar when the explosion occurred. “People started running haphazardly for their life,” he said.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and and Sahi from Islamabad. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Mumbai, India.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times