Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate radical ideologies from Pakistan after a Taliban suicide bomber targeted many women and children celebrating Easter on Sunday at a park in one of its biggest cities.
“Our goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure but also the extremist mindset which is a threat to our way of life,” Sharif said in a statement on Monday after reviewing security in Lahore. “We must take this war to the doors of terrorist outfits before they are able to hit our innocent country men.”
He called for more coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies and sought a united fight against terrorism, a refrain he has repeated often in the face of a Taliban insurgency that has killed more than 60,000 people since 2001. This one hit close to home: Punjab, the nation’s most populous state, is Sharif’s political base and has seen fewer attacks than areas closer to the mountainous border with Afghanistan.
The blast killed at least 72 people and injured about 300, police spokesman Nayab Haider said by phone on Monday. An offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility and said the group was targeting Christians, the Washington Post reported, citing a spokesman.
Pakistani television showed a video of people running from the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in a residential part of Lahore. The area was crowded with Christians, and many families were leaving when the blast occurred, according to reports.
The attack highlights the challenges in Pakistan, where the military has long used extremist groups as strategic assets against India to the east and Afghanistan to the west. Sharif has sought to take on Pakistan’s conservative elements in recent months, calling for better treatment of women and executing a man who assassinated a former governor for seeking a review of a blasphemy law.
Sharif, who took power in 2013, termed the attack as cowardly and said it was a reaction to the government’s success in the fight against terrorism. Troops and intelligence agencies conducted five raids since last night, recovering a “huge cache” of arms and ammunition and arresting a “number of” suspected terrorists and facilitators, military spokesman Asim Bajwa wrote on Twitter on Monday.
The attack occurred as thousands rallied in the capital Islamabad to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered the former governor of Punjab in 2011 over his stance on the blasphemy law. The protesters called for the imposition of Shariah law and wanted Qadri to be declared a martyr.
Although Pakistan was created for Muslims as part of a two-state solution following independence from the British in 1947, military ruler Zia ul Haq imposed more stringent Islamic laws only in the 1980s.
Leaders around the globe condemned the attack. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Nawaz Sharif on Sunday and “underlined the need for uncompromising efforts to fight against terrorism,” foreign office spokesman Vikas Swarup wrote on Twitter. US presidential candidates also condemned the attack.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in an e-mailed statement. “Attacks
like these only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world.”
Sunday’s attack was Pakistan’s deadliest since 2014, when the Taliban massacred about 150—mostly students—in their school, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. It was the deadliest in Lahore since 2010, when a bombing killed almost 100 members of the minority Ahmadi Muslim community.