Monday, July 12, 2010

Awesome Flute Jam in COKE STUDIO

The Population of Lahore

Lahore to be home to 11.25m come 2020

July 11, 2010 · Leave a Comment

LAHORELahore’s population has almost doubled over the last 12 years (from 5.14 million in 1998 to about 9 million at present) and is expected to cross 11.25 million by 2020 if it keeps growing at the current rate – 2.05 per cent. It was only 2.9 million in 1981 census.
On average, 547 children are born in the six teaching hospitals of Lahore everyday. The provision of basic healthcare and education facilities to these children however remains questionable. Though the government officials claim that the unregulated growth of population has stopped, the statistics say otherwise.
The world is observing Population Day on July 11 (today). The theme for this year is ‘Everyone Counts’ which aims to highlight the importance of data collection.
Our population census organisation and population welfare ministry, however, have yet to come up with a reliable mechanism to collect population data.
An official of the Population Welfare Department absolved his department of responsibility in this regard saying that data collection was a federal issue. He said that the provincial department did not have any independent and reliable data collection mechanism.
Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta, the District Coordination Office (DCO), said that the city district government was planning to build infrastructure to cope with the increasing population of the city. He claimed that the unplanned growth had been stopped and new housing societies were only being allowed after they presented a complete master plan.
“We are also trying to control ill-planned population growth in the existing housing societies. With planned growth we will be able to control the population in the city in time,” he said.
The DCO said that commissioning of new schools, roads and hospitals was part of development planning.
The Ministry of Population Welfare director general said that they were working to bring down the growth rate to 1.73 per cent. On the theme of the Population day, “We are proposing a new National Population Policy of Pakistan which will be produced before the Cabinet very soon,” he said. He added that the policy aimed at collecting authentic data so that the population control plans can be made relevant and effective.
He said that the government would also consult religious scholars on the issue. The new policy, he said, would be finalised after taking the provincial departments on board.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2010.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

More Loadshedding

 Heavy loadshedding starts
Friday, May 29, 2009
By Our Correspondent


Loadshedding has started again for the duration of more than 10 hours in most of the urban areas and more than 12 hours in the rural areas of the provincial capital after a gap of two days. 

It was learnt on Thursday that during the previous two days, the duration of the loadshedding had decreased to seven hours in the urban areas and 10 hours in the rural areas. 

People from different areas of the city told The News that the decrease in the loadshedding duration gave them a bit of respite but now the situation had become as it was before as the temperature rose again after two days. 

People from Allama Iqbal Town, Township, Samanabad, Mozang, Shadman, Walled City, Chungi Amar Sadhu, Kot Lakh Pat, Sandha, Sabza Zar, Multan Road, Judicial Colony, Johar Town and Thokar Niaz Beg told The News that they had been really upset due to loadshedding during Wednesday night. 

They further said that despite presidential orders to Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) that there would be no loadshedding during the night time, there was severe and continuous outage of power during the night and the unscheduled trippings were other than that. 

According to LESCO spokesman, the shortfall between demand and supply was 843 MW on the evening of Thursday and the scheduled loadshedding duration were 8 and 10 hours in the urban and rural areas respectively. 

When contacted, Pakistan Electric Power Company spokesman was not available to tell about the power crisis. 

Why Lahoris must use bicycles

 Why I'm a cycling enthusiast

Friday, May 29, 2009
Ahmad Rafay Alam

In a column titled "Wake up to the New Urban Reality" (Aug 25, 2008), I had written "Our import bill is now at $1.287 billion, 87 percent higher than the same month last year. Of this amount, oil imports accounted for $752.618 million, a 135-percent increase from this time last year." Over half the money we spend buying dollars to pay for our imports goes towards the purchase of oil.

We still don't have the figures for our import bill for this fiscal year (they are compiled later), but in 2005-2006, according to the ministry of petroleum and natural resources website, the oil import bill alone was $6.7 billion. The Economic Survey of that year records a consumption of 14.6 million tonnes of petroleum products. According to the website and the Economic Survey, over half (55 percent) of the sectoral oil consumption in Pakistan was by the transport sector. 

Energy, the next largest consumer, had a sectoral consumption of nearly 29 percent.

One may compare these reports for the 2006-2007 and onwards, but the trend appears to be the same: Of the oil we spend money on importing, about half is spent in fuelling our cars, buses, trucks, wagons, motorcycles, rickshaws and other motor vehicles. Wait, there's one correction: Last year, the Saudi government agreed to give Pakistan a $4.2 billion oil "facility." So, of the oil they we've bought using money we don't have, over half of it goes to fuelling our cars, buses, trucks, wagons, motorcycles, rickshaws and other motor vehicles.

Lahore has a population estimated to be in the region of eight million. 

There are, last I checked, approximately 1.8 million registered motor vehicles plying the roads of the city. On a straight calculation, it would appear that nearly 20 percent of the city's residents have motor vehicles. This is not the case. Motor vehicles include cars, rickshaws and motorcycles, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a large proportion of the motor vehicles in the city are the two-wheel variety. 

In any event, what these figures don't tell you is that less than 20 percent of Lahore's population actually has access to, or uses, motor vehicles. 

Children don't drive, and a large proportion of the female population is completely immobile. On a day-to-day basis, I would estimate that no more than 15 percent of the population drives or uses their own motor vehicle. The truth is that most Lahoris walk, cycle, pillion-ride, car-pool or use what we euphemistically refer to as "public transport."

However, when one compares the amounts of money spent by government on cars, the figure is disproportionate to the number of people who use them. For instance, according to the 2008-2009 budget allocation, the government of Punjab allocated nearly Rs37 billion to health, public-health and education. That's Rs37 billion on three separate heads of allocation. On the other hand, its singular allocation for roads and bridges stood at Rs45 billion. 

The Parwaiz Elahi government spent billions of rupees on underpasses along the Lahore Canal alone. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is doing the same, with more underpasses at Shalimar Link Road and Harbanspura. There's also talk of a billion-rupee road construction linking the city with Jati Umra, the Sharif Estate on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, not a rupee has been spent on public transport in the past decade. (Mr Shahbaz Sharif's initiative of the Lahore Transport Company notwithstanding, as it seemed to be derailed following the entire Governor's Rule saga.)

With such a small proportion of the city actually using fuel-eating motor vehicles the effects of Lahore's use of the motor vehicle are staggering. The pollution in the city is the worst it has ever been in recorded history. The WHO recommends, for instance, the level of particulate matter PM 2.5 be no more than 40µg/cubic metres every 24 hours. 

Particle pollution is made up of chemicals, including acids, metals and soil and dust particles. Inhaled, they affect the heart and lungs. Constant traffic raises large quantities of dust into the air. According to the Environment Protection Department, this month, the level of PM 2.5 was 119 µg/cubic metres near Town Hall--119 µg/cubic metres. During the winter, these figure jump even higher. PM 2.5 also reduces visibility. The WHO limit on the presence of nitrogen oxide is 80 µg/cubic metres, whereas it stood at 110 µg/cubic metres near Town Hall. Nitrogen dioxide is formed when fuel is burned at high temperatures and one of its primary sources is thought to be motor vehicles. Carbon monoxide is produced by motor vehicles as well.

One of the reasons we have such bad pollution in the city of Lahore is because of the motor vehicle. And one wonders why, when our children and we get sick – there were an estimated 45 million cases of respiratory disease reported in 2005-2006 – they aren't any good hospitals or good doctors. It's because, instead of spending money on schools, hospitals and the training of medical staff, our government is spending it on roads that will be used by the elite few who drive the motor vehicles that pollute us in the first place. Talk about a vicious cycle.

Meanwhile, from an urban planning point of view, Lahore's sprawling growth is dependant on the motor vehicle as the only form of mobility. We simply have no public-transport alternatives. The "public transport" system currently in place, if it can be called that, is closer to an extortionate supply system feeding off an immense demand. And so, anyone who needs to get around in the city simply cannot, unless they have access to a motor vehicle. In other words, if you don't have a car, you can't do as much as someone with a car. In fact, not having a car also affects a person's income-earning potential (you can't have two jobs, for instance). The automobile-dependant growth of our cities makes them breed inequality and discrimination.

Last year, while oil prices were shooting through the roof, I decided to park my car and invest in a locally-manufactured Sohrab bicycle. If cost me less than Rs5,000 and will last me over a decade. And I've already more than made up for its cost in the amount of money I would have spent on petrol while driving around stuck in traffic all day. Many people ask about traffic safety or the levels of pollution. I tell them the chaos on the roads is a reason to improve traffic congestion. Not a reason to give up cycling. In any case, I've invested in a face mask. Many ask about the weather. The summer is undoubtedly hot, but with a few precautions (and an extra shirt), I'm usually not the worse for wear. In fact, an architect friend from London told me that his city recently introduced new building regulations requiring all buildings to have cycle stands and showers located on premises. Most of the comments I receive reveal the inverted priorities of those who take the automobile for granted.

I've also become part of a small group of cycling enthusiasts in the city who call themselves Critical Mass Lahore. Critical Mass is a cycling event that takes place the last Friday or Sunday of the month in over 200 cities around the world. Cyclists gather and take to the streets to remind people that cycling is a perfectly sound alternative to automobiles. That it's actually the automobile that causes congestion, not the cycle. That cycles don't burn costly petrol. That they don't pollute. That they don't discriminate between income groups. That our city streets are should be safe for citizens to enjoy themselves. 

The group meets at the Zakir Tikka intersection on Sarwar Road in Lahore's Cantonment at 5.45 this Sunday, as it has the last Sunday of the previous six months. It's a diverse group of men and women of all ages. Some women participate to make the point that the remaining public space in our cities shouldn't be thought of as segregated. 

All one needs is a roadworthy cycle and sense of fun.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: ralam@nexlinx.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More details of Attack on Lahore

Officers describe deadly Pakistan attack

Car bomb in Pakistan kills 27
Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
The family of police inspector Abdurauf Sultan, 54, grieves before his burial. This was the third attack in Lahore since early March.
The assault on security force buildings in Lahore that left 27 people dead and more than 250 hurt was carried out by gunmen who fired at police before their explosives-laden van detonated.
By Alex Rodriguez 
May 28, 2009
Reporting from Lahore, Pakistan -- Officers guarding Pakistani police and intelligence agencies saw the gunmen jump out of the white van that had stopped at their gate.

The assailants wore white shirts and trousers, and sprayed gunfire in the air and at the police. One tossed a grenade in the direction of officers who had begun firing back.

Then, on a bustling workday morning in the heart of Pakistan's second-largest city, the explosives-laden van rammed the steel gate and detonated. The blast razed the police building, sheared off a wall from the intelligence agency office and destroyed any illusions that the military's incursion to retake parts of the country under Taliban control would succeed without great cost.

This morning, authorities put the death toll at 27, with more than 250 people injured. It was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks to strike Pakistan this year. 

A group calling itself Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab claimed responsibility, authorities said today. Some experts said they believed the attack could have been a retaliatory strike resulting from the Pakistani military's offensive against the Taliban to regain control of the embattled Swat Valley and surrounding districts that has sent hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing from the fighting. 

The bombers' target was clear. The van, laden with what Lahore police official Suhail Sukhera said was 220 pounds of explosives, detonated just outside buildings that housed the headquarters for the Punjab provincial branch of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's spy agency; police offices; and the homes of several top local police officials.

"These buildings were sensitive," Sukhera said as he visited injured police officers at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Some officers had suffered gunshot wounds; others had large head and chest gashes created by the blast.

"What are we going to do? We're in a state of war," Sukhera said. "They're trying to harass us, but I'll tell you what: They'll fail. You'll see us back at our offices tomorrow."

Authorities said they had suspects in custody, but there were varying reports of how many were arrested. Sukhera said two men were detained. Pakistani television reported that as many as five people were being held. Pakistan's Dawn news channel reported that two of the suspects were connected to a group linked to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud. The report, however, could not be verified.

Mahsud claimed responsibility for a daring daytime raid March 30 on a police academy on Lahore's outskirts that left about 20 people dead, including at least four assailants. In early March, militants attacked the Sri Lankan national cricket team during its visit to Lahore, leaving seven people dead, six of them police officers.

Since the offensive to oust the Taliban began a month ago, Pakistani military leaders have been touting the gains that troops have made against militants they have described as "on the run." Military spokesmen have said that more than 1,100 militants have been killed in the fighting.

On Wednesday, military officials said 70% of Mingora, Swat's main city, had been cleared of Taliban. Those claims could not be independently verified because the government has greatly restricted journalists' access to the Swat district.

The offensive has received growing public support, in part because many Pakistanis see the burgeoning Taliban insurgency as a significant threat to their country's stability and security. Terrorist attacks such as Wednesday's bomb blast in Lahore could be aimed at derailing popular backing for the offensive, analysts said.

"They're trying to get publicity, sending a message to 'Stop it!' trying to demoralize the public and hoping to get publicity for themselves through massive casualties," said Talat Masood, a military analyst and former general in the Pakistani army. "People then start criticizing the government for not negotiating. I hope it won't work."

Former Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said that, given the toll that the offensive was taking on Taliban strongholds in Swat, Pakistani security forces should have been better braced for an act of retaliation.

"Such attacks are natural, and one should have expected them," Sherpao said. "Of course there was a security lapse -- that's why so many people died."

The van exploded after crashing through a security gate at a checkpoint just outside Lahore's Rescue 15 building, which houses police emergency services.

Khawar Abbas, a 25-year-old Lahore police officer assigned to guard the building, was about six feet from the van when it pulled up to the gate. Two men with automatic rifles jumped out and began firing into the air, then at Abbas and other police officers at the gate, Abbas said from his bed at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to his left arm.

Several officers fired back but were shot. Fahim Salim, 23, was shot twice in his left leg after firing at the gunmen.

"They looked just like us," Salim said. "They were young men dressed in white shirts and trousers -- and they had very new guns."

Abbas said that, after the exchange of gunfire, one of the gunmen tossed a grenade toward the officers.

"I fell when they threw the grenade," Abbas said. "There was a small blast, then in five seconds, a massive blast. I felt like I was right on the lap of that blast. It was only God who saved me."

The explosion left a 20-foot-wide crater in the asphalt outside the building and tore apart buildings hundreds of yards away, including nearby glass-walled office buildings and car showrooms.

At the hospital, windows were blown out.

"I was in my office when the blast happened," said Dr. Ejaz Sheikh, who heads the hospital.

"It was a terrible, intense sound. We had 22 staff people injured, but they kept treating the wounded coming in."

Late Wednesday, scores of relatives and friends met on a grass field at Lahore police headquarters, gathering on a warm, breezy night around the coffins of 15 police officers who died in the attack. After a moment of prayer, the coffins were carried away to be buried, held up by Pakistani men who shouted "Martyrdom!" as they walked briskly.

"We've had too much terrorism in the last two years," said Mahmud Ahmed Nasir, whose nephew, Gulam Mustafa Padyar, an officer who worked in the Rescue 15 building, died in the blast. "And it's the everyday Pakistanis who die, not the elite."

NY Times om Lahore Bombing : May, 2009

At Least 23 Die in Huge Bombing in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan — Suicide attackers spraying gunfire rammed a carload of explosives into a building housing a police emergency response unit here on Wednesday, killing at least 23 people in what officials said was a failed attempt to strike at the nearby provincial headquarters of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.

K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press

Rescue workers at the scene. More Photos »


Suicide Bombing in LahoreSlide Show

Suicide Bombing in Lahore

 Back Story: Salman Masood on the Blast (mp3)


Times Topics: Pakistan

The New York Times

More Photos >

Almost 300 people were wounded in the attack, which took place in broad daylight in one of the busiest districts of Lahore. The assault underscored that militants in Pakistan now feel emboldened to strike far from their traditional strongholds in the lawless regions bordering Afghanistan.

Officials said that at least two of the attackers appeared to have died in the blast and that three suspects were detained. Some witnesses reported sustained gunfire after the explosion, indicating that at least one gunman might have escaped.

Several army and intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said they believed that the attack was aimed at the local command center of the Directorate ofInter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan’s premier spy agency.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the attack may have been in reprisal for the Pakistani Army’s campaign againstTaliban militants in the northwestern Swat Valley.

“I believe that anti-Pakistan elements, who want to destabilize our country and see defeat in Swat, have now turned to our cities,” Mr. Malik told reporters.

The bomb left a crater 8 feet deep and 20 feet wide, and the blast was heard for miles around. Dozens of vehicles were crumpled like paper, and broken glass filled the street. The building of the police-run rescue service collapsed after taking the brunt of the blast, and emergency workers struggled for hours to pull out the dead and wounded.

Fahim Jahanzaib, a rescue services official, placed the death toll at 23, with more than 294 wounded.

The dead included 14 policemen and a colonel belonging to the intelligence agency, according to an intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

“It is quite apparent that the ISI was the target,” the official said, calling the attack a “brazen and well thought-out plan.”

It was the third attack in three months in or near Lahore, which is the capital and cultural hub of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and affluent province. Earlier attacks provoked official fears that Taliban insurgents had teamed up with local militants, includingLashkar-e-Taiba, suspected of conducting the attacks in Mumbai, India, in November that killed at least 163 people.

In the attack on Wednesday, a white car containing three or four attackers drove toward the rear entrance of the ISI building about 10:15 a.m., according to officials and witnesses. One man jumped out and began to spray gunfire at the police and security personnel guarding the area, said a witness, Ikram Rabbani, who works in a nearby store.

Unable to get through the building’s security barrier, the driver changed course and rammed into the neighboring building, which housed the police-run ambulance service. The building, made of brick, collapsed, shrouding the neighborhood in dust.

Mr. Rabbani said he heard a small explosion followed by a second powerful blast.

“They couldn’t get through,” the intelligence official said. “So, the second-best option was to hit the building right next to the sector headquarters.”

Immediately after the explosion, army troops poured out of the heavily fortified office of the intelligence agency. Security forces took up position on nearby rooftops, and a helicopter hovered above.

No group immediately took responsibility for the attack, but the suspicion of many Pakistani officials fell on Taliban militants seeking vengeance for the army’s current push into the Swat Valley.

“There is a possibility that this is a retaliatory blast,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a presidential spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, the public will have to stand very strong and united because we are fighting a very powerful and ideologically driven enemy.”

The United States has been pressing Pakistan to move against the militants to undermine their support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the Central Command, was in the capital, Islamabad, to meet Pakistani leaders when the attack happened, Reuters reported.

The ISI is a powerful body that has long been mistrusted by American officials, who accuse some of its members of harboring sympathies for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But it has been the repeated target of militants, some of whom suspect ISI agents of helping theCentral Intelligence Agency pinpoint the coordinates for drone attacks on insurgents close to the Afghan border.

Maryam Kazmi, 25, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was watching television when the attack occurred. “The ground shook, and all the windows of my room flew open,” she said. “The air-conditioner’s frame fell on my bed. “It was so loud that I had to cover my ears.”

The explosion was one of a series of recent attacks in Lahore.

In March, eight people were killed in the city in a commando-style attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Later in March, militants hit several hundred police cadets during a morning drill at their academy in a village near Lahore, killing at least eight recruits and instructors.

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Lahore, Pakistan, Sharon Otterman from New York, and Alan Cowell from Paris.

Four out of seven terror attacks in Lahore occur on The Mall

Four out of seven terror attacks in Lahore occur on The Mall

By Ali Usman

LAHORE: Yesterday’s terrorist attack on the building of an intelligence agency and the Rescue 15 office on Queen’s Road is the seventh deadly attack in Lahore and the fourth on the busy The Mall during the last one-and-a-half years.

All four of the blasts on The Mall have occurred on one side of the city’s busiest road. A number of important government and private offices are located on The Mall, which also houses many businesses. 

At least 68 people were killed in the five terrorist attacks prior to the Manawan terrorist attack. Following is a chronology of the terrorist attacks in Lahore between January 2008 to date. The major targets of most of these attacks have been law enforcement agencies. All six terrorist attacks in Lahore during January 2008 to March 2009 have been carried out in broad daylight. 

GPO Chowk attack: A motorcyclist blew himself up outside the Lahore High Court (LHC) on January 10, 2008, killing 24 people and injuring 80. Around 20 police officials were killed in the attack. The attack was the first major suicide attack in Lahore and shocked the people. A wave of sympathy was generated in the general public for the police after the attack.

Pakistan Navy War College attack: Two suicide bombers attacked the Pakistan Navy War College on March 4, 2008, killing six people and injuring 23. Inter-Services Public Relations, however, said three junior-ranked officers were martyred while 16 were injured. The attack was the second one on The Mall, the main road in the city. 

FIA blast: At least 30 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in twin suicide blasts at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) headquarters on Temple Road and an advertising agency’s office in Model Town on March 11, 2008. The FIA headquarters at that time also housed a special US-trained unit to counter terrorism. A small truck crashed into the main entrance of the FIA building, running over a constable guarding the gate. The attacker then rammed the truck into a car parked near the reception. The blast was so severe that the windowpanes of buildings within a 2-km radius were shattered. 

Garhi Shahu blasts: Three low-intensity bombs exploded in three juice shops in Garhi Shahu, injuring five people, including two children, on October 7, 2008. No casualties were reported; however, an injured passed away a day after the blasts. 

Blasts at WPAF: Three blasts at the World Performing Arts Festival (WPAF) at the Alhamra Cultural Complex created immense panic among the people on November 22, 2008. The festival however concluded peacefully and no casualties were reported. 

GOR-II blast: A woman was killed and five people were injured when a mini-truck packed with explosives blew up in GOR-II on December 24, 2008. 

Theatres targeted: Panic gripped the city when low-intensity blasts targeted two theaters, Alfalah and Tamaseel, on January 9, 2009. No casualties were reported.

Liberty terrorist attack: At least seven people were killed and six cricketers, a coach and a Pakistani umpire was injured in an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at the Liberty Roundabout on March 3. The attackers fired rounds of AK-47, hand grenades and rockets at the Sri Lankan team’s convoy and managed to flee the scene. 

Manawan attack: The Police Training School Manawan was attacked by the terrorists on March 30. At least eight police cadets were killed in the attacks. Unofficial sources put the death toll at 27.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lahore Suicide Blast death toll mounts to 23

GEO Pakistan
 Lahore suicide blast death toll mounts to 23
 Updated at: 1334 PST,  Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Lahore suicide blast death toll mounts to 23 LAHORE: The suicide car bomb blast at Rescue-15 building adjacent to CCPO Office killed 23 people and injured over 200 others here in Civil Line area on Wednesday.

The injured have been shifted to different hospitals of the city where medical aid is being provided to them.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has strongly condemned the blast.

According to sources, gunshots were being heard near the blast site for minutes before a speeding red van laden with explosives broke the barriers outside the Rescue-15 building and blew up with a loud blast, bringing down the entire building.

The suicide bomber intended to target the office of the CCPO, sources added.

Explosives weighing 100 kilograms were used in the explosion which was followed by gunshots in the area with intervals while four suspects were arrested from the blast site.

Windowpanes of the nearby buildings and houses were shattered and 15 vehicles were destroyed as thick smoke clouded the blast site.

Rescue activities were kick-started after the blast and the injured were whisked away by ambulances to Meo, Gangaram and Services hospitals.

Machines are being used to recover people trapped under the debris. Six of the ten bodies brought to Meo Hospital were of policemen while two bodies are beyond recognition.

Lahore Bomb Blast on 27 May, 2009

At Least 23 Are Killed in Huge Bomb Blast in Pakistan

Published: May 27, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan — A huge suicide car bomb in one of the busiest districts of Lahore killed at least 23 people and injured almost 300 on Wednesday, officials and rescue workers said, deepening official worries that frail security in this nuclear-armed country may allow militants to strike with impunity.

K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press

Rescue workers at the scene. More Photos »

The explosion occurred near the offices of Lahore’s police chief, which was partially damaged, and of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the premier Pakistani spy agency, which may have been the target. Rangers and army soldiers immediately cordoned off the area.

It was the third attack in three months in or near Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. The bomb left a crater eight feet deep and a vista of flattened concrete and destruction. Dozens of vehicles were crumpled like paper and broken glass filled the street. The dark pink brick building of the Rescue 15 ambulance service collapsed and emergency workers dug through the debris to try to find survivors.

No group immediately took responsibility for the attack, which Pakistani officials said may have been revenge for the Pakistan Army’s campaign against Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley north of the capital, Islamabad. “There is a possibility that this is a retaliatory blast,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a presidential spokesperson and member of Parliament. “Unfortunately, the public will have to stand very strong and united because we are fighting a very powerful and ideologically driven enemy.”

“Very possibly, it is an attempt to subvert the army’s brave and courageous operation and the government’s resolve to defeat terrorists,” Ms. Ispahani said.

The United States has been pressing Pakistan to move against the militants to undermine their support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, was in Islamabad to meet Pakistani leaders when the attack happened, Reuters reported.

Officials said at least three suspects had been detained. A crowd of onlookers beat one suspect as he was ushered into a vehicle by the police, witnesses said.

Sajjad Bhutta, the district coordination officer in Lahore, said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who rammed his vehicle into a building housing an ambulance service. The bomber broke through a security barrier before detonating the explosives. There were also reports of sniper fire. A number of witnesses and residents said they heard firing before the massive blast shook the entire neighborhood.

Ikram Rabbani, who works in a nearby store, said three or four attackers approached the building in a white-colored vehicle. One man, wearing a shirt and trousers, jumped out and opened fire.

Mr. Rabbani said he heard a small explosion followed by a second powerful blast. Troops poured out of the heavily fortified office of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency to secure the perimeter. Security forces took up position on nearby rooftops and a helicopter hovered above for a short while.

Fahim Jahanzaib, a rescue services official, said the death toll was 23 with more than 294 injured. Raja Riaz, a senior minister in the Punjab Province government, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that that about 30 people died.

At the site of the blast, police officials tried to stop people from gathering. “Move away,” shouted one officer. “Firing is still going on,” he warned as a throng of people tried to break through a police cordon.

A filling station was totally destroyed and several car showrooms nearby were damaged. Workers were seen clearing the debris and shattered glass as mangled vehicles lay nearby.

The explosion recalled a series of attacks.

In March, eight people were killed in the city in a commando-style attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, prompting a British umpire to complain that promises for heightened protection were not honored.

“We were promised that we would get presidential-style security,” the umpire, Chris Broad, who was traveling with the team, said after returning to Britain.

Then, later in March, militants hit several hundred police cadets caught off guard during a morning drill at their academy in a village near Lahore.

The attackers went on a rampage, killing at least eight recruits and instructors. One attacker was killed in the siege that followed and, in a gory finale, three detonated suicide belts, killing themselves. More than 100 people were wounded.

At the time, Rehman Malik, a senior adviser in Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, said the seven attackers had rented an apartment in Lahore but came from Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas in the west — the same region used by the Taliban to stage attacks on American forces in Afghanistan.

The attack reinforced an assessment by Pakistani and American authorities that Taliban insurgents were teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, which is home to more than half of Pakistanis. The alliance poses a serious risk to the stability of the country, those authorities said.

Waqar Gilani contributed reporting from Lahore and Alan Cowell from Paris.