QUETTA, Pakistan — A suicide bomber blew himself up near a truck carrying police en route to protect polio workers outside Quetta on Wednesday, killing two and injuring more than 20 others, mostly police, officials said.
Ghulam Azfer Mehser, a senior police officer, said the attack happened as officers were heading towards polio workers, part of a nationwide vaccination campaign launched on Monday.
He said the bombing also damaged a nearby car carrying family members.
The Pakistani Taliban in a statement claimed responsibility. In a statement, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, said the attack in Balochistan was aimed at police in revenge for the murder of its former spokesman, Abdul Wali. He was widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani and was killed in a bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Paktika province in August. His death was a blow to the band.
The attack on police came amid a spike in new polio cases among children. The latest vaccination campaign is the sixth such campaign this year and will last five days, aiming to inoculate children under the age of 5 in high-risk areas.
The campaign is targeting Islamabad and high-risk districts in eastern Punjab and southwestern Balochistan province, where Monday’s attack took place. He killed at least two people, including a policeman and a child. A similar campaign will be launched in the northwest the first week of December.
Pakistani authorities regularly launch such campaigns despite attacks on workers and police assigned to vaccination campaigns.
Activists falsely claim that vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children. Since April, Pakistan has recorded 20 new cases of poliomyelitis, which can cause severe paralysis in children.
Pakistan came close to eradicating polio last year when only one case was reported.
Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries where poliomyelitis has not been eliminated.
Wednesday’s bombing came two days after the Pakistani Taliban ended a month-long ceasefire with the Islamabad government, ordering its fighters to resume attacks across the country, where dozens of deadly attacks have been blamed on the insurgent group. In Monday’s statement, the illegal TTP group said it would end the five-month ceasefire after the military stepped up operations against the TTP.
Pakistan and the TTP agreed to an indefinite ceasefire in May after talks in the Afghan capital. The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, which seized power in Afghanistan more than a year ago as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the TTP, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in Afghanistan.
The latest violence comes a day after Pakistan’s new military chief, General Asim Munir, took command.
Munir, a former spy, replaced General Qamar Javed Bajwa after retiring after a six-year term. Bajwa, during his tenure, had approved a series of operations against militants in Balochistan, the northwest and elsewhere in the country.
The latest attack also comes a day after the army claimed to have killed 10 “terrorists” in a raid in Hoshab district of Balochistan province. For nearly two decades, Balochistan has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by separatists demanding independence from the central government in Islamabad. The government says it has suppressed the insurgency, but violence in the province has persisted.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.