An explosion targeting a police vehicle in Pakistan’s southwestern Quetta city on Friday killed at least 11 people ─ including five policeman, and injured around 20 others, officials said.
The explosion occurred in front of the office of the police chief in Quetta, which is capital of mineral-rich southern Balochistan, a province that is rife with separatist and Islamist insurgency.
“Eleven people have died… and at least 20 others are injured,” Fareed Ahmed, medical superintendent at Civil Hospital told AFP, saying the death toll had increased from five earlier in the morning.
Four policemen were among the dead, while three others remain in critical condition, he said.
Police surgeon Dr Ali Mardan confirmed the toll.
Police said that their vehicle was targeted in the attack, but that the nature of the explosion was not yet known.
“The blast targeted a police pick-up in front of the IG (Inspector General) office. A motorcycle was also destroyed in the explosion,” Mohammed Tariq, a senior police official said.
Abdul Razzaq Cheema, director general of police in Balochistan province, told Reuters it appeared the bomber had detonated a car packed with explosives.
The explosion occurred on Jummatul Wida, the day when Muslims offer last congregational Friday prayers in the holy month of Ramazan.
Pakistan has been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies in Balochistan since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting.
Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, it is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.
A greater push towards peace and development by Pakistani authorities has reduced the violence considerably in recent years.
The push includes starting work on a massive Chinese infrastructure project — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — which gives Beijing a route to the Arabian Sea through Balochistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar.
Beijing is ramping up investment in its South Asian neighbor as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 that will link its far-western Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Balochistan with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades worth $62 billion.
Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the provincial government, blamed neighboring India for the blast. He offered no evidence.
On Thursday, Pakistan said that an Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and sabotage, had petitioned for mercy.
In a ‘confessional’ video released simultaneously with the announcement of Jadhav’s appeal, the spy was heard saying that Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) sponsored various terrorist activities in Pakistan in order to disrupt economic activities linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Jadhav, who Pakistan said had crossed into Balochistan from neighboring Iran, was arrested in March 2016 and sentenced to death in April.
Balochistan has faced a number of security challenges in recent months, with security personnel in the province often being targeted in roadside explosions.
Earlier this month, three security officials were injured after an improvised explosive device (IED) seemingly targeted their vehicle in the Johan area of Kalat.
Days later, two navy sailors were martyred and at least three others were wounded when their vehicle was attacked in the Jiwani area of Gwadar district.
In May, at least 10 laborers were killed in Balochistan’s Gwadar district when unidentified assailants opened fire at the construction site where they were working.