Islamabad: Leaders gathered for a rare summit in Islamabad on Thursday as militant attacks killed 36 people across the country on one of the deadliest days of violence claimed by the Taliban in months.
The string of attacks on Shiites and Pakistani security forces underscored the immense security challenge in a country where Taliban and Al Qaida-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 Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are chief among the summit guests.
Police said a suicide bomber struck a procession of Shiites who were commemorating Muharram.
Police used lamps and torches to work through the night, and confirmed the final death toll after daybreak with eight children among the wounded.
It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan since 29 people were killed in Khyber on June 16 and the worst attack on Shiites since February 17 when a suicide bomber killed 31 people in Kurram.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, another explosion Wednesday that killed two people near a Shiite mosque in Karachi, and attacks targeting security forces in the northwest which officials said left five police dead.
Human rights groups frequently criticise the government for failing to clamp down on extremist sectarian groups, such as Lashkar-E-Jhangvi, which have been accused of killing thousands of people.
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 has said it wants the summit to strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions [about the country] created in a section of international media”.
The capital was in lockdown to safeguard the event. Thousands of extra police and paramilitaries were deployed. Schools were closed. Thursday was declared a partial public holiday and motorcycles were banned close to government installations.
India on Thursday also asked Pakistan to increase security at its embassy in Islamabad, fearing possible demonstrations or reprisals over its execution of Mohammad Kasab for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
And on the outskirts of Peshawar, militants attacked a police post on Thursday, killing one police official and abducting another, police said.
There was no claim of responsibility for that attack, or another in Quetta on Wednesday when an army vehicle escorting children home from school was targeted, killing four soldiers and a woman.