Scores dead in Peshawar blast

A powerful bomb blast in Peshawar leaves ninety dead, hundreds wounded. Six UN employees killed in Kabul. Guinea’s September massacre pre-planned according to Human Rights Watch. The political crisis deepens in Zimbabwe. The Hague hears how Karadzic ‘ordered’ ethnic cleansing. All this and more in today’s security update.
Rukeyya Khan
28 October 2009

A powerful car bomb blast ripped through a crowded market in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar killing 90 people, just hours after Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan for a three-day visit. Wednesday's bomb is the latest in a string of attacks across the country since the army launched a major military offensive in South Waziristan earlier this month. The powerful blast tore through buildings in Peshawar's Peepal Mandi market, setting several of them on fire. Most of the dead are thought to be women and children. Relief workers said the number of casualties could rise as most of the 200 wounded were in a critical state. Others may still be trapped inside buildings. No one has so far claimed responsibility.

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Speaking shortly after the bomb blast, Clinton pledged Washington's support for Pakistan and denounced the attack in Peshawar as ‘cowardly.' She also praised the Pakistani military for its campaign against insurgents in South Waziristan. ‘This fight is not Pakistan's alone ... this is our struggle as well,' Clinton told a press conference.

The ToD verdict: More than 125,000 people have been registered as displaced as a consequence of Pakistan's military offensive in South Waziristan. Last week, the Red Cross said its relief workers were being kept out of South Waziristan and faced severe travel restrictions. The BBC reports that Mehsud tribesmen, who make up two-thirds of the population of South Waziristan, have been denied supplies as ‘punishment for backing the Taliban.' In a region where tribal loyalties are paramount, deliberate collective punishment may alienate locals already overwhelmed and displaced as a result of the fighting.

Hillary Clinton is set to discuss a number of issues with Pakistani officials, including US drone strikes and an aid package worth $1.5bn a year for the next five years. The trip will also concentrate on determining the causes of growing anti-American sentiments in the country. So far, Clinton has announced a new American-funded energy program that will help Pakistan repair and upgrade its power plants in order to address energy shortfalls in the country. The initiative is part of a broader effort to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis and to show that the US-Pakistani relationship extends beyond security concerns.

Despite such sweeteners, US activities in Pakistan continue to offend many who fear a transgression of their country's sovereignty. On Tuesday, the US was warned that its use of drones to target suspected militants in Af-Pak may be a violation of international law. To date, drones have killed hundreds of people in north-west Pakistan with claims that many of the dead are civilians. UN Human Rights investigator Philip Alston called on the US to explain the legal basis for drone attacks and show respect for international law which bans arbitrary executions. The increased use of drone attacks in previous months has come under intense criticism from members of the Pakistani political opposition.

UN workers killed in Afghanistan attack

A Taliban raid on a guesthouse in Kabul in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday has left six UN employees dead and nine wounded. The US embassy confirmed that at least one of the dead was an American. The head of the UN mission in Kabul, Kai Eide, described the attack as ‘a very dark day for the UN in Afghanistan.' The Taliban claimed the assault was part of a strategy to disrupt the second round of presidential elections on 7 November.

Meanwhile a senior US diplomat, Matthew Hoh, recently became the first official to resign from his position in protest at the war in Afghanistan. A key representative for the US government in Zabul province, Hoh said he had ‘lost understanding of, and confidence in, the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan.' Hoh accused the US of bolstering a failing state and encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by the Afghan people. His departure comes as US forces in Afghanistan suffered their deadliest month of the conflict so far.

Elsewhere US military commanders are now allowed to pay Taliban fighters who switch sides and renounce violence. The new provision is an attempt to reach out to moderate Taliban fighters and is part of a defence bill due to be signed into law on Wednesday by Barack Obama.

Guinea's September massacre pre-planned - Human Rights Watch

The EU has imposed an arms embargo and visa ban on 42 Guinean leaders as new details emerged about alleged killings and rapes committed by troops at a peaceful rally last month. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused members of the presidential guard of carrying out a 'premeditated' massacre that resulted in the killing of more than 150 people and dozens of rapes. HRW claimed its ten-day investigation showed that the presidential guard surrounded the stadium where pro-democracy activists had gathered and opened fire with AK-47s as panicked demonstrators tried to flee. EU officials have joined HRW in calling for members of the junta to be tried for human rights violations. Unions in the West African country called for a nationwide strike on Wednesday in commemoration of the massacre.

Political crisis deepens in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may appoint ministers in place of officials from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party who have been boycotting cabinet meetings since early this month. The rival leaders formed a power-sharing government in February but the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have boycotted meetings in protest against the arrest of one of its top officials. Opposition supporters and human rights activists have accused Mugabe's aides of violence, intimidation and arbitrary arrests. On Wednesday the UN said that Zimbabwe has blocked a visit by a UN torture investigator who was to examine alleged attacks on opposition activists by ZANU-PF supporters.

Karadzic 'ordered ethnic cleansing'

Judges at The Hague have begun hearing evidence from prosecutors about the role played by Radovan Karadzic in the Bosnian War (1992-5). Karadzic stands accused of eleven offences, including genocide, for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the Bosnian war and the deaths of thousands of civilians during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo. On Tuesday, prosecutors quoted telephone transcripts in which Karadzic warned of an impending 'bloodbath', warning Sarajevo was to become a 'black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die.' The 64-year old defendant boycotted The Hague hearings claiming he needs nine months to prepare his defence, after an official request to delay proceedings was overruled. The court will not sit again until Monday.

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