ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A car bomb blast at a movie house in the northwest city of Peshawar killed six people and injured 75 others Friday, raising fears that gains made by Pakistani troops against Taliban militants in the volatile Swat Valley will be answered with a wave of bombings in urban areas.
The explosion outside Tasweer Mahal cinema on one of Peshawar's most traffic-choked streets was the second in a week in the provincial capital. Last Saturday, a car bombing in Peshawar killed 13 people.
The Pakistani Army's ongoing offensive in the Swat Valley and surrounding northwest regions appear to be gaining support from many citizens wearied by the Taliban insurgency and its spread beyond tribal areas that border Afghanistan. That public support has been buoyed by advances that the Pakistani military says it has made on Taliban strongholds in recent days.
Military officials say they have cleared the Buner and Lower Dir regions of Taliban fighters, and have encircled Swat's main city, Mingora, where Taliban militants remain. They've also begun destroying concrete bunkers and networks of tunnels that Taliban militants had built in towns and villages they had established as bases.
Increasingly, however, Pakistanis have worried that the offensive may trigger retaliatory attacks from the Taliban, including suicide bomb blasts and car bombings in Pakistan's largest cities.
"Such incidents will increase in coming days if the government does not stop the operation in Swat and change its policy," said Mohammed Iqbal, a Peshawar political activist.
Support for the offensive is also tempered by the country's burgeoning humanitarian crisis, fueled by the exodus of nearly 2 million people fleeing the fighting. More than 160,000 have jammed into tent camps outside the northwest city of Mardan, Peshawar and the outskirts of Islamabad.
Amid sweltering temperatures, overwhelmed aid workers are struggling to supply adequate amounts of food and health care to the throngs at the camps. The United Nations appealed to the international community for $543 million in emergency relief for displaced Pakistanis.