Pakistan: Baluchi rebels behind KFC blast?

A powerful blast outside KFC fast-food franchise killed three people and wounded at least 15 others in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi early Nov. 15. The Baluchistan National Army, a separatist guerilla group in restive southwestern Baluchistan Province, claimed responsibility for the attack. But Pakistani officials deny the existence of the group. “We did it to protest, and we did it to pressure the government for our rights,” a guerilla spokesperson, identified as Chakar Azam, told the AP. Pakistani officials dismissed the claim.

The attack occurred near a KFC outlet in the upscale Saddar neighborhood, home to numerous banks, international hotels and restaurants. Rauf Siddiqi, the provincial home minister, called the bombing a “terrorist act.”

The attack came one day after a delegation of US officials and corporate leaders met with Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ostensibly to discuss aid to Pakistan in the wake of last month’s devastating earthquake. Under-secretary of State Karen Hughes and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca were part of the delegation.

Pakistani officials said the attack was also aimed at disrupting the cricket match between England and Pakistan scheduled for next month. England’s team is currently visiting Pakistan, and Karachi was chosen as a venue for a five-day match.

The attack also comes a day after Gen. Musharraf voiced satisfaction with his government’s supposed crackdown on terrorists. “We have broken most of the gangs, the terrorist organizations,” he told CNN. “They are on the run in the cities. They are almost neutralized. We are succeeding in the mountains also.” Pakistan has arrested over 600 terror suspects since 2001, but operations against Ismalists continue in the mountains along the Afghan border near Baluchistan. (NYT, Nov. 15)

Some accounts said initial reports of three dead were incorrect, and that the thrid was really in critical condition. It was also noted that the blast occurred 100 meters from the Sheraton Hotel where the English cricket team is staying. The CBC noted that Karachi “is a centre of Islamic militancy and previous bombings in the city have been linked to extremists opposed to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s close ties to the United States.” Hundreds of US troops are currently in Pakistan assisting with earthquake relief. (CBC, Nov. 15)

This is not the first time that a KFC has been targetted in Pakistan–although last time, in May, it was by a crowd of Shi’ites enraged by the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque by Sunni jihadis (possibly of the same sort who blew up the KFC this time around). It is telling that both sides in Pakistan’s bloody Sunni-Shi’ite schism, as well as (perhaps) the Baluchi separatists, see American junk food as a symbol of what they oppose. Fast-food outlets in Lebanon have also been a fave mark of Islamic extremists. While we admire their choice of targets, we wish the jihadis had the more pacifistic ethic of French militant gastronome José Bové.

See our last post on Pakistan, and on the Baluchi insurgency.