Pakistan Cracks Down On Militants As Shrine Death Toll Hits 83

Pakistani security forces say dozens of Islamic extremists have been killed in a nationwide crackdown following a recent series of deadly terror attacks that broke a period of relative calm in the country.

The announcement on February 17 comes a day after Islamic State (IS) extremists claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in southern Pakistan that killed at least 83 worshippers at a Sufi shrine, the largest in a wave of attacks across the country claimed by different militant extremists during the past week.

Security forces have moved quickly since the February 16 attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sindh Province -- with political and military leaders vowing to go to any length to crush the extremists.

"Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night and sizable apprehensions also made," the military said on February 17.

Analysts said the recent wave of violence has been a major escalation in militants' attempts to destabilize the country.

"This is a virtual declaration of war against the state of Pakistan,” said Imtiaz Gul, head of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

Pakistan's military in recent months has scored a series of victories against different extremist militant groups and factions, boosting optimism about security in the country.

But hopes have been dashed this week by a renewed campaign of violence by IS and Taliban-linked groups, along with other extremists.

Border Crossing Closed

Military and foreign office officials claimed the renewed attacks had been launched from extremist hideouts in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's military said Afghan Embassy officials have been summoned to the military's General Headquarters and presented with a list of 76 "terrorists" said to be hiding in Afghanistan.

Pakistan on February 16 also closed the Torkham border crossing into Afghanistan for "security reasons."

Major General Asif Ghafoor, head of the military's ISPR media wing, said the border crossing on the highway between Peshawar, Pakistan, and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, would remain closed until "further orders."

In the attack on the Sufi shrine in the town of Sehwan, at least 30 children were among the dead. More than 100 people were wounded.

Period Of Mourning

The government of Sindh Province on February 16 announced a three-day mourning period.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief of staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on February 17 visited the town of Sehwan.

Sharif vowed to crush the extremists "with the full force of the state."

Earlier on February 16, a land-mine blast had killed an army captain and two army soldiers in the Awaran area of Balochistan Province.

On February 15, two suicide attacks took place in northern Pakistan -- both claimed by Taliban militants.

One was in the Mohmand tribal district and the other, in Peshawar, targeted court judges.

On February 13, a suicide attacker targeted protesters in Lahore, killing 13 people, including senior police officers, and wounding more than 80 others.

With reporting by By RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, Reuters, AP, AFP, Dawn TV, and Geo TV