ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's president told a summit of developing nations yesterday that his government would not bow to terrorists after militants killed at least 36 people across the country.
Asif Ali Zardari inaugurated the summit of Developing Eight (D-8) in Islamabad yesterday but the meeting's objective to increase trade ties and investment among member states was overshadowed by a series of deadly attacks.
In the most violent attack, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a Shiite Muslim procession near Pakistan's capital, killing 23 people in Rawalpindi.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for a bombing on a Shiite mosque in Karachi while other attacks also took place in Peshawar and Quetta.
"Terrorists, both from within Pakistan, and from abroad, seek to impose their agenda," said Mr Zardari.
"But we cannot and will not allow Islam to be hijacked. We will fight for our values."
Pakistan had been determined that D-8 summit would present a different image of the country as it hosted the leaders of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Malaysia and Turkey to promote trade among the member states, which are all Muslim nations or have big Muslim populations.
The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, who is focused on domestic concerns, did not attend the summit, which opened more than three hours late with an address from Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan intended to hand over chairmanship of the group to Pakistan.
Despite issues around security, delegates eventually got down to business yesterday.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, said that there was a wide scope of cooperation among D-8 countries in the fields of agriculture, maritime industry as well as science and technology.
"We need to encourage the free flow of goods, free flow of peoples and free flow of finances," said Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
An initiative of the late Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, the D-8 has a combined population of more than one billion and accounts for about 60 per cent of the world's Muslims.
Analysts have, however, cautioned that the group has to go a long way to achieve its objectives.
"They have agreed on a lot of things in the past but have not implemented those agreements so far like agreements on preferential trade and visa liberalisation," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent analyst based in Lahore said.
"They should now translate their declarations into concrete and solid steps," he added.
Pakistan had hoped to use the D-8 summit to improve its international image but the attacks underscored the threat the Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants pose.
In Rawalpindi, police said a suicide bomber struck a procession of Shiite Muslims who were commemorating the holy month of Muharram, which is frequently targeted by sectarian extremists in Pakistan.
Police had tried to stop the bomber as he attempted to join the procession, but he ran past them and detonated his explosives, said senior police official Haseeb Shah.
"I think the explosives combined with grenades caused the big loss," said Mr Shah.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attacks on Shiites in Rawalpindi and Karachi.
"We have a war of belief with Shiites," he said
Pakistan's independent human rights commission said in a statement yesterday that the bombings highlighted the security challenges faced by the country.
"It seems the new breed of religious zealots wanted to tell the D-8 dignitaries all about the mess the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been turned into," it said.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press