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At Least 70 Dead In Suicide Bombing At Pakistan Hospital

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to Pakistan, where a suicide bomber earlier today attacked a hospital in the city of Quetta. The explosion killed at least 70 people and wounded more than a hundred. Many of the victims were lawyers. Both ISIS and an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. Gibran Peshimam is senior executive producer for Geo Television in Karachi. I first asked him to describe that Taliban offshoot.

GIBRAN PESHIMAM: The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar actually are a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban which have claimed a majority of attacks in Pakistan over the last couple of years. Not a lot is known about them. The United States only recently put them on their terror group list, and the people involved in these groups are breakaways of Pakistani Taliban who were not for negotiating with the Pakistani state. And this group has actually associated itself with many groups that Taliban has stayed away from such as Daesh and Afghanistan.

CORNISH: Daesh meaning, as we know it in the states, ISIS or ISIL.

PESHIMAM: Yes, exactly.

CORNISH: And then the target here believed to be attorneys. More than a dozen were killed. They had been gathered at the hospital to mourn the assassination of one of their own. And I understand this is not the first time that lawyers have been targeted. What's going on?

PESHIMAM: That's correct. Lawyers have been targeted on multiple occasions. Although the motive here is less to target the lawyers themselves than it is to target soft targets over the last few years because the Pakistani military installation, the government installations have hunkered down. What has happened is that Pakistani Taliban have targeted soft targets such as schools, lawyers, hospitals, and that is their general target these days.

CORNISH: I understand that there's a state of emergency at all hospitals in Quetta right now. How has the Pakistan government reacted today?

PESHIMAM: Well, the state of emergency in hospitals is the normal response by the state of Pakistan. What is not usual or not - is extraordinary is the high-level meeting that was held in Quetta today and attended by both the prime minister himself and the chief of army staff.

The response by the state has been twofold so far. They say that this attack is a direct consequence of the increased cooperation between Pakistan and China in an attempt to destabilize the region. And on the other hand, they've actually blamed India for fueling this violence. So it's been a pretty direct attack by the Pakistani state against India and against a general conspiracy in the region targeting Pakistan and China's increased cooperation.

CORNISH: Can you talk about what the mood and atmosphere is there? Like, how are people reacting to this?

PESHIMAM: Well, generally, there is an air of terror certainly because Quetta and Baluchistan has generally over the years - has fallen prey to a number of suicide attacks. And the suicide attacks that generally take place in Quetta are very huge in nature. I mean, just a couple of years ago, the provincial government was dissolved based on multiple attacks which claimed over a hundred lives each.

So it's nothing new for this region, unfortunately, such - the nature of such attacks. What is new is that it's (unintelligible). These attacks continue in the wake of the operation launched by the Pakistani military over the last two and a half years. The Pakistan army tends to blame this upsurge of violence in the region as a - sort of a wave of violence in - counter to its operation. But whether or not that is true, we don't know and cannot be corroborated in any way.

CORNISH: Are there wider fears, though, being expressed by people about whether Pakistan can do anything about these attacks more broadly?

PESHIMAM: I think the general atmosphere in Pakistan right now is of acceptance that such attacks will continue until, I mean, the operation reaches its logical conclusion. Certainly, the number of suicide attacks has fallen, but the question that raises here is that the attacks could continue to happen on soft targets because of the operation and because of the inability to target government and military installations there is going to be continued wave of attacks on softer targets such as schools and courts and hospitals.

CORNISH: Gibran Peshimam is senior executive producer for Geo Television. He spoke to us via Skype from Karachi. Thank you so much for talking with us.

PESHIMAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.