- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan | A bomber blew himself up at a funeral for a slain Shi’ite leader in northwest Pakistan Friday, killing 30 people and wounding at least 60, police and witnesses said. Three other people were killed in sectarian rioting sparked by the attack.

No one took responsibility, but the blast bore the hallmarks of Sunni extremists blamed for a string of bloody strikes against Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority in recent months.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber barged into a 1,000-strong crowd streaming toward a graveyard in Dera Ismail Khan and detonated his explosives. The crowd was mourning Sher Zeman, a Shi’ite leader who was gunned down in the city the previous day.

Soon after Friday’s bombing, gunfire broke out and angry Shi’ites fired on police officers rushing to the scene, police official Ishtiaq Marwat said. Rioters torched a public bus.

By nightfall, troops patrolling the streets had restored order, police official Nemat Ullah said.

On Monday, Pakistan announced it would agree to the imposition of Islamic law in the restive Swat Valley in the northwest of the country as part of an agreement aimed at restoring peace after an 18-month military campaign. The pact was spearheaded by hard-line cleric Sufi Mohammed who is negotiating with the Taliban in the valley to give up their arms.

The government has rejected concern that the pact would create a Taliban sanctuary less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, insisting it is committed to combating terrorism and extremism.

But Richard C. Holbrooke, the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Thursday that he raised concern about the deal during a phone call with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr. Holbrooke told CNN that President Obama was worried “that this deal, which is portrayed in the press as a truce … does not turn into a surrender.”

He said Mr. Zardari told him during Thursday’s phone call that the pact was an “interim arrangement” while Pakistan stabilizes the situation.

“He doesn’t disagree that the people who are running Swat now are murderous thugs and militants and they pose a danger not only to Pakistan, but to the United States and India,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, however, said Washington could accept a similar political agreement between the government and Taliban rebels in neighboring Afghanistan.

Answering a reporter’s question while visiting Poland for a NATO meeting, Mr. Gates said: “If there is a reconciliation, if insurgents are willing to put down their arms, if the reconciliation is essentially on the terms being offered by the government, then I think we would be very open to that.

“We have said all along that ultimately some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said.

Afghanistan’s government has said it wants to persuade Taliban guerrillas who are not “hard-liners” to lay down their arms in return for a political role in the country. But representatives of the Taliban, who have made significant military gains in the past two years and now control vast swathes of countryside, say they will not negotiate while foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.

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