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Pakistan's government vows to find those behind a deadly bombing

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A suicide bombing at a political rally near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan has killed dozens of people and injured some 200.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It was one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan this year. And it comes as the country prepares for elections this fall.

FADEL: On the line with us is NPR's international correspondent Diaa Hadid. She covers Pakistan. Good morning.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what do we know about what happened?

HADID: Well, more details are emerging now. Local media report the bomber was carrying over 22 pounds of explosives, and he struck just as a guest speaker got on stage. Videos shared on Twitter showed the aftermath. In one, a man with bloodied legs dangling off the back of an open-back Jeep is rushed away, and another shows medics placing body parts into coffins.

FADEL: Disturbing descriptions. Do we know why this rally, this place, was targeted?

HADID: Well, it occurred in a district called Bajaur, and it straddles the Afghan border. And it spotlights in part how violence has been spilling over into Pakistan since the Taliban seized Afghanistan nearly two years ago. And that violence has largely been attacks on soldiers and police. It's the work of a Pakistani offshoot of the Taliban and a local insurgent group. But this attack was different. It had the hallmarks of the Islamic State, and it signaled a different kind of spillover that's just as worrying.

FADEL: So what do you mean by a different kind of spillover?

HADID: Right. Well, the Taliban have been killing suspected Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, and clerics sympathetic to the group. And Islamic State has been striking back against the Taliban and its ideological enablers. And this political party is sympathetic to the Taliban, but it's in Pakistan. So it seems that ISIS may be taking this fight across the border. Iftikhar Firdous is the founding editor of the Khorasan Diary. It's a publication that focuses on militancy in South and Central Asia. And he says ISIS has had this political party in its sights for a while.

IFTIKHAR FIRDOUS: In the last couple of months, we've seen their propaganda. And it's not just the Pashto and the Farsi versions of the Islamic State of Khorasan publications, but also some of the Arabic publications now clearly said that the group was a target.

HADID: And you see that the Taliban-ISIS conflict has spilled over into Pakistan in the past. But this attack was big and politically sensitive because the party in question is part of the current Pakistani government coalition. So for this, I also spoke to a security researcher, Abdul Basit. He's at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

ABDUL BASIT: So these two groups have been going back and forth, killing each other. The war has now extended and spilling over into - I mean, it was already in Pakistan, but now it is expanding.

FADEL: So how is Pakistan responding to this?

HADID: Well, security researchers like Abdul Basit say Pakistan's military has to improve intelligence gathering and win over the hearts and minds of locals. It's not something, though, that the Pakistani military has done well in the past. But the stakes are quite high right now. Elections are expected in October this year, and it's hard to see how that will happen if a political party remains targeted like this.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you for your reporting, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.