July 14, 2024

Islamabad, Pakistan – More than 50 people were killed and many others injured in bomb attacks in two different Pakistan provinces, officials have said.

In the southwestern province of Balochistan, a powerful bomb exploded on Friday near a mosque in Mastung city, where people were gathering to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

Video footage shared on social media showed a large number of people, including many children, standing near the mosque before the bomb blast ripped through the crowd.

No one has claimed responsibility, officials in Mastung said, adding that the blast was caused by suicide bombers.

Mastung police official Javed Lehri told Al Jazeera that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an outlawed group also known as Pakistan Taliban, claimed it had “nothing to do with the attack”.

“No other group has so far claimed responsibility,” he said, adding that the celebration was organised by two local religious parties.

Saeed Mirwani, chief executive of the Shaheed Nawab Ghous Bakhsh Raisani Memorial Hospital in Mastung, said that 52 people died in the explosion.

Second attack

Later in the day, at least five people died and more than 10 were injured after two attackers in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attempted to enter a police station in Hangu city, Fazal Akbar, a city official, told local media.

Police fired upon the attackers and they fled towards a nearby mosque, Akbar said.

“One of them blew himself up at the gate, but the second one managed to enter the mosque. Thankfully, most of the people in the mosque managed to escape due to the first blast, which is why our casualty count was less,” he said.

Similar to the attack in Mastung, no one claimed responsibility for the second bombing.

Pakistan Taliban issued a statement condemning both attacks and called the loss of life “tragic”.

“The goals of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are clear. Mosques, seminaries, schools and public gatherings are not among our targets. We have nothing to do with today’s two blasts and we strongly condemn them,” the statement from Pakistan Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khorasani read.

The two attacks on Friday come as the country faces a dramatic resurgence in violent attacks against its security officials and civilians.

According to data from the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based research organisation, more than 300 attacks have been carried in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year.

Pakistan has repeatedly urged the neighbouring Afghan government, currently led by the Taliban, to help stem the rising wave of violence.

It has alleged that fighters are using Afghan land as safe havens from which to launch attacks on Pakistan, a charge repeatedly denied by the Afghan government.

Iftikhar Firdous, editor of the Khorasan Diary, a research organisation specialising in armed groups in the South Asia region, said the attack in Mastung is the direct consequence of a “virulent ideology which has been nurtured by the Islamic State [ISIL]”.

Firdous said that the two regional branches of the ISIL (ISIS) group operating here, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Islamic State Pakistan Province (ISPP), frequently target public ceremonies and locations that achieve maximum casualties.

“In Mastung, the ISPP enjoys a strong presence and has carried out multiple major and low-scale attacks in the city, mostly against civilians, regardless of their religious affiliations,” Firdous said.

“According to ISKP and ISPP ideology, it is not only permissible, but it is compulsory to target such gatherings, as the group issued several fatwas [religious rulings] advocating for attacks,” he added.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher on armed groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that the ISPP is the most likely suspect in the Mastung attack, while ISKP has a stronger presence in areas close to Hangu district.

The ISKP has previously claimed responsibility for the deadly bomb blast earlier in July when more than 50 people died during a political rally in Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Sayed said that while the Afghan Taliban have clamped down on the operations of the ISKP, resulting in a decline in their activities, there is a clear upward trend of activity by the ISKP and ISPP in Pakistan.

“These attacks are part of ISKP and ISPP’s battle for survival. Perhaps, due to limited resources, the group is attacking soft targets to secure its survival in the regional militant landscape,” he told Al Jazeera.

Along with the deteriorating security situation, the country of 241 million people has been grappling with economic uncertainty and political instability over the past year.

Pakistan, currently ruled by a caretaker set up after the dissolution of the government in August, is scheduled to hold its general elections in January 2024.

Past election campaigns have been marred with violence, with certain political parties were targeted by the Pakistan Taliban, hampering their political campaigning.

Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace, said that while Pakistan has been primarily concerned about the Pakistan Taliban threat, it appears that ISIL and its affiliates are becoming an increasing problem for the country.

“ISIL/ISIS is showing that not only is it a threat in Afghanistan, but increasingly also in Pakistan, and that it has the capability to target the upcoming election in the country,” Mir said.

“The group can certainly come in the way of campaigning and even disrupt election activities in select geographies. But whether it can do so at scale is unclear.”

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