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Pakistan's New Government Faces Country Awash With Conflict


In Pakistan, a new government started work this month. It faces a country awash in conflict. To get a sense of just how complicated it is to govern Pakistan, NPR's Philip Reeves focused on one 48-hour period. He chose this past weekend.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: For many Pakistanis, this was supposed to be a fun weekend. Their national cricket team was playing the old enemy, India.

Every day here, there are many power cuts. But Pakistanis with generators fired them up and sat down to watch their favorite sport, televised live from England.


REEVES: It's hard, in Pakistan, to escape reality for long. The cricket was barely underway before news of an atrocity began pouring in. A bus full of female students was bombed at a women's university in Quetta, capital of the province of Baluchistan. The dead and injured were rushed to a nearby hospital. It got worse - gunmen stormed the hospital.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan today described events to parliament.

CHAUDRY NISAR ALI KHAN: (Through Translator) There was the first blast and then they started firing. The local officials there said it was like a scene out of doomsday.

REEVES: That blast he speaks of was a suicide bomber. The security services raced to the scene. A siege began with exchanges of fire. When it ended, some five hours later, the death toll was 24, including 14 female students from the bus bombing and four hospital nurses. A sectarian Sunni group that targets Shiites said it carried out the Quetta attacks.

These were shocking atrocities and they made big headlines. Yet, this last weekend, like most days in Pakistan, many other people were killed without anyone taking nearly as much notice. The port city of Karachi led the way.

MOHAMAD SARFRAZ KHAN: (Through translator) About some 22 people have so far been killed in 48 hours.

REEVES: Crime reporter Mohammad Sarfraz Khan works for the Express-Tribune in Karachi. He covers a city blighted by violence, between ethnic, sectarian and political groups, and also gangsters.

On Sunday, tragedy struck near Pakistan's northwest frontier. Two health workers conducting a polio vaccination drive were shot dead. They were killed by the Taliban, which view polio vaccinations as a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.

As Baluchistan mourned the victims of Saturday's atrocities, there was more violence there, too. Three policemen were shot dead at a checkpoint and there a tragic postscript to the bus bombing. It involved the grieving father of a girl killed by the bomb, says Tariq Zahari, a senior provincial official.

TARIQ ZAHARI: Mr. Mehmood Khan and his driver, Karim, they were coming from (unintelligible) to Quetta in a vehicle to collect the body.

REEVES: As he was traveling to retrieve his daughter's body for burial, Khan was kidnapped.

Less than two weeks have elapsed since Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sworn in. Sharif must figure out how to tackle some well-armed militant groups. Some are committed to destroying the state itself. Of that, there was more evidence this weekend. Before he died, Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, lived in a country retreat in the hills of Baluchistan. Saturday, some separatists burned this historic monument to the ground. This really shook many Pakistanis. They saw it as an attack on nationhood itself.

Farzana Bari, a civil society activist, says the violence this past weekend is a jolt to people hoping that Prime Minister Sharif has some answers.

FARZANA BARI: Somehow, one was not ready to deal with that kind of bloodshed and violence, and all that. That makes people also far more nervous because people have a lot more hope.

REEVES: Bari admits Pakistan's new government needs time but she adds...

BARI: I still don't see any clear policy or strategy plan. What are their solutions, you know?

REEVES: It was a bad weekend. Yet, killings and kidnappings happen here day in, day out. Pakistan lost the cricket - that is the least of its problems.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.