More than 50 people have been killed and at least 100 injured in a suicide attack in the village of Wagah — the only official land border crossing between India and Pakistan. According to reports, a lone suicide bomber detonated 25 kg of explosives near the border checkpoint between the two countries shortly after the conclusion of the well-known daily Wagah flag-lowering ceremony. According to the BBC, the Pakistani Taliban and at least one other group affiliated with al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack comes at a time of particularly heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Pakistani officials have confirmed that only the Pakistani side of the border was affected by the attack.
“A large number of people were returning after watching the Rangers flag ceremony at Wagah border when a suicide bomber blew himself up near one of the exit gates,” Inspector General of Punjab Police Mushtaq Sukhera told First Post. “The Rangers had made stringent security measures but it was difficult to check [for a] suicide bomber,” he added. One anonymous Pakistani intelligence official witnessed the attack and described “scattered bodies, injured men, women and children and smashed cars” at the scene. The Indian side of the Wagah border remains on high alert after the attack.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his “grief and sorrow” regarding the attack. Other Pakistani officials, including Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad emphasized the government’s commitment to fighting terrorism in Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi denounced the attack almost immediately, tweeting that he found the attack “shocking” and that he strongly condemned “such a dastardly act of terrorism.” Pakistani opposition politician and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, Imran Khan, also condemned the attack.
The Pakistani Taliban — specifically Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group — claimed that the attack was an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani military’s ongoing campaign against the Taliban in the country’s tribal regions. In addition to the Taliban, Jandullah, an al Qaeda affiliate in Pakistan, also claimed responsibility. Jandullah was responsible for a similar suicide attack at a church in Peshawar last year. A spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar denied that any other group was responsible: “Some other groups have claimed responsibility of this attack, but these claims are baseless. We will soon release the video of this attack,” he said. The Pakistani Taliban ended a ceasefire with the government earlier this year after talks between it and the government proved unproductive. The Pakistani military continues to focus its efforts on the Taliban in North Waziristan.
In response to the attack, all land border trade between India and Pakistan has been frozen. Officials have noted that trade activity will likely be suspended for at least two more days. Wagah holds both symbolic and strategic importance for India and Pakistan. As the only official land crossing between the two countries, it represents an important target for terrorism. The Wagah border ceremony is a well-known daily occurrence in the village involving both the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers. The ceremony occurs daily before 5:00 p.m. and attracts tourists from both countries.