Multan: A bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded at the gate of a famous Sufi shrine in central Pakistan during morning prayers on Monday, killing at least five people, said officials.
The bombing at the Farid Shakar Ganj shrine in Punjab province was the latest in a string of attacks targeting Sufi shrines in Pakistan. Islamist militants often target Sufis, whose mystical practices clash with their hardline interpretations of Islam.
The dead from Monday`s attack included at least one woman, said Maher Aslam Hayat, a senior government official in Pak Pattan district where the shrine is located. At least 13 others were wounded by the explosion, he said.
The blast damaged several shops outside the shrine, said Hayat. But the shrine itself, which is dedicated to a 12th century Sufi saint, was largely unscathed, he said.
Pakistan is 95 percent Muslim, and the majority practice Sufi-influenced Islam.
Two suspected suicide bombers attacked the most beloved Sufi shrine in Pakistan`s largest city, Karachi, earlier this month, killing at least eight people and wounding 65 others.
A suicide attack in July killed 47 people at the nation`s most revered Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in the eastern city of Lahore. That attack infuriated many Pakistanis, who saw it as an unjustified assault on peaceful civilians.
Pakistan has waged a heated military campaign against Islamist militants at war with the state, but it has resisted US pressure to expand its effort to target Taliban militants based the North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border who regularly attack foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Sunday his country will deal with North Waziristan on its own timeline despite the latest effort by the US to push the country forward by offering a new USD 2 billion military aid package.
"We have our own priorities. We have our own sense of timing," said Qureshi after returning from high-level strategic talks in Washington where the aid package was announced.
The US believes an operation in North Waziristan is key to success in the Afghan war because the area serves as the main base for the Haqqani network — a militant group that military officials have said poses the greatest threat to troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has resisted taking action. Analysts say the country is reluctant to target militants it has historical ties with and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan once foreign troops withdraw.
The Haqqani network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The elder Haqqani was closely allied with Pakistan during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Pakistan has denied that it has links with militants and has said that it cannot launch an offensive in North Waziristan until it wraps up operations in other areas of the tribal belt.
"When you do an operation, you have to consolidate your position," Qureshi told reporters during a news conference in the city of Lahore. "If you do an operation without consolidating, what will happen is that you leave the place and they (the militants) will fill the gap again."
The five-year, USD 2 billion aid package announced during the recent talks to encourage Pakistan to step up its military campaign is meant to purchase American arms, ammunition and accessories from 2012 to 2016.
The new aid, which must be approved by Congress, replaces a similar but less valuable package that began in 2005 and expired on October 01. It will complement USD 7.5 billion in civilian assistance the administration has already committed to Pakistan over five years.