The large explosion at the gates of Quetta civil hospital in Balochistan took place as dozens gathered to mourn the shooting of a senior lawyer, who was killed earlier on Monday.
Hospital sources confirmed an initial death toll of 53 to The Telegraph, adding that at least 56 people were injured, some of them critically.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, condemned the attacks. “No-one will be allowed to disturb the peace of the province,” he said. “The people, policy and security forces in Balochistan have given sacrifices for the country.”
Abdul Malik, a former chief minister of Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, termed Monday the “blackest day” in the history of the region.
The killings have not been claimed, but appear to be part of a wider pattern of targeted attacks on lawyers and other professionals in Balochistan.
Quetta suffers from a long-running separatist insurgency, violent sectarian tensions especially between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and is an important base for Taliban leaders.
The bombing took place as lawyers gathered at the entrance of the hospital’s emergency wing to mourn Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was president of the Balochistan Bar Association. Mr Kasi had been targeted by two unidentified gunmen who opened fire on his car near Quetta’s Mengal Chowk earlier on Monday morning. He was taken to the Civil Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Journalists covering the initial shooting were also caught up in the blast. Mehmood Jan, a lawyer who survived the bomb blast, told The Telegraph that more than 50 lawyers had been entering the hospital wing when the bomb went off. “There was a loud blast, and after the blast I heard firing noises.
Everyone started running away. Everywhere was covered with blood and body parts.” Another lawyer also reported witnessing gunfire immediately after the attack.
Sarfaraz Bugti, Balochistan’s home minister, said the bombing was a suspected suicide attack. “This was a security lapse and I am having this personally investigated,” he said.
Lawyers launched country-wide protests over the attacks later on Monday, with demonstrations taking pace in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.