(CNSNews.com) – Pakistan’s army chief warned there would be “no more restraint” and vowed to avenge the blood of more than 70 people, including dozens of women and children, killed in a suicide bombing in a Sufi shrine in the south of the country on Thursday.
An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack at the shrine of a Sufi saint named Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh province. The male bomber, according to some reports, was wearing a burqa.
Twenty children and nine women were among the dead, according to a charitable organization that operates a national voluntary ambulance service. Adding to the difficulties for responders – the nearest hospital is more than 40 miles away. The military said Navy helicopters were dispatched to help the evacuation of those injured.
The bombing was the latest and deadliest in a series of terror attacks this week, including suicide bombings in Lahore, in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, and in Peshawar, also near the Afghan border.
Islamabad has accused Afghanistan of not keeping a lid on terrorists operating from its soil.
“Recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan,” the head of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations office, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said in a statement. “We shall defend and respond. [Terrorists] will not be spared.”
Ghafoor said the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had been sealed with immediate effect.
He quoted Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying that Pakistan’s “security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed. We stand for our nation.”
“Each drop of nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately,” Bajwa added. “No more restraint for anyone.”
The comment was noteworthy because Pakistani officials frequently maintain that the country has a “policy of restraint” in its relations with its neighbors.
A day earlier, Bajwa said during a visit to the tribal belt that “terrorists are trying to regroup in safe havens in Afghanistan.”
“Hostile agencies should avoid playing with regional peace and stability as we reserve the right to respond, despite our current policy of restraint,” he declared.
Despite the recent upsurge, overall, terror attacks have declined in Pakistan over the past two years, amid a heightened security offensive targeting terrorist groups.
The shrine was crowded on Thursday evening, an important time of the week for Sufis, devotees of a mystical, moderate interpretation of Islam that is viewed as heretical by hardline Sunnis.
Another Sufi shrine, in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, was targeted in a suicide bombing three months ago. More than 50 people were killed in that attack, also claimed by ISIS.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the bombing targeting Sufis was “an attack on the progressive, inclusive future of Pakistan; one where every man, woman and child is entitled to life, liberty and property in the pursuit of happiness no matter their religion.”
“We have faced tougher circumstances, and still persevered,” Sharif said. “I will do everything in my power to protect this country, and what it represents.”
Pakistani authorities deny that ISIS has an organized presence in the country. Security researchers say ISIS does have an Afghanistan-Pakistan affiliate (sometimes called “Islamic State of Khorasan”) which drew together members of a former splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), who pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after he declared the formation of a “caliphate” in mid-2014
The group claimed both Thursday’s bombing and the one in Balochistan last November through its Aamaq propaganda outlet. Some of the other recent attacks were claimed by another TTP splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which also operates from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
Pakistan itself has for years been accused by neighboring Afghanistan and India – and U.S. security experts – of tolerating and even colluding with terrorists, including those fighting international coalition forces in Afghanistan and those fighting against Indian rule in part of disputed Kashmir.
Pakistan has long been among the top ten recipients of U.S. aid. Since the al-Qaeda terror attacks on the U.S. in 2001, it has received more than $33 billion in U.S. aid, including some $14 billion in “Coalition Support Funds,” which reimburse costs of counterterrorism efforts.