KHAR: A truck packed with explosives blew up in a crowded market in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing 11 people, as security concerns led officials to temporarily close a supply route to Nato troops in Afghanistan.
The blast in Salarzai town in the Bajur tribal area near the Afghan border also wounded nearly two dozen people, some of them critically, and damaged several vehicles and shops, said Jehangir Azam, a local government administrator.
“There are nine bodies and 20 wounded brought to hospital,” Doctor Khalilur Rehman told AFP.
Two children aged eight and 13 were among the dead and four children aged five to 11 were among the injured, he said.
It’s unclear whether the attack was a suicide bombing, or if the explosives were detonated by remote control, he added. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A shop owner who was injured in the explosion, Sher Mohammed, was sitting in his store when he saw a pickup truck enter the bazaar. Minutes later he heard a loud detonation.
“Something hurt my arm, chest and leg, and I fell down,” said Mohammed. “When I opened my eyes, I found myself on this hospital bed.”
The Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence in Bajaur, but the group’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ahsan, denied they were behind the bombing. The group often denies involvement in bombings with significant civilian casualties.
The army has carried out several offensives against militants in Bajaur, but they continue to stage attacks.
Thursday’s decision to close one of the two border crossings used by Nato to ship troop supplies into Afghanistan was made based on security concerns, said Bakhtiar Khan, a local government official.
The closure of Torkham crossing in the northwest Khyber tribal area followed an attack in the area on Tuesday in which gunmen opened fire on a convoy carrying Nato troop supplies, killing a driver and wounding two other people.
The crossing could remain closed for several days as officials work with Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps to come up with an adequate security plan, said Khan.
The other crossing used by Nato convoys, Chaman in southwest Balochistan province, remains open, said customs official Mohammed Tariq.
The flow of trucks over the border since then has been relatively thin because of bureaucratic delays and disputes over compensation.
“We have been told by authorities to wait here as they are building up security after the firing incident,” Amanullah Khan, a Nato truck driver, told AFP in Peshawar.
So far, the closure has only affected the Torkham crossing.
At the southwestern crossing of Chaman, some 17 trucks were awaiting clearance to enter Afghanistan and 20 other trucks were parked in Quetta, clearing agent Ashraf Khan told AFP.
Pakistan closed its Afghan border to Nato supplies in November in retaliation for US airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad finally reopened the route in early July after the US apologised for the deaths.
Before the blockade, around 150 trucks crossed into Afghanistan each day at Torkham — the closest border crossing to Kabul — and officials say the flow will rise to up to 300 a day.
But three weeks after the blockade ended, trucks and containers are still holed up at the Arabian Sea port of Karachi, where Nato goods are unloaded for the overland route.
Workers are waiting for security guarantees and compensation for the last seven months, said Rana Mohammad Aslam, vice president of the All Pakistan Goods Carriers Association.
“Not a single truck has left town so far because of the payment issues with the subcontractors and the government’s failure to devise a plan to provide adequate security to the trucks,” he said.
He told AFP that Tuesday’s killing had “spread more fear among truck owners and their employees.”
An official at the ports and shipping ministry told AFP on the condition of anonymity that not a single container had left the port, pending customs clearance and the payment of damages.