QUETTA -- A powerful blast targeting a military vehicle Saturday night (August 12) was a calculated attempt by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) to disrupt Pakistan's Independence Day celebrations, officials said.
The blast killed at least 15 people at a bus stop in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province, and the area caught fire soon after the explosion.
A statement by the Pakistani military said the explosion targeted an on-duty vehicle and set several other vehicles on fire.
"Incendiary explosive was used. As a result nearby vehicles caught fire. Fifteen people including seven civilians were martyred," the statement said.
Provincial Interior Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti and government spokesman Anwar ul Haq Kakar confirmed the death toll and put the number of wounded at 32.
The ISIS Khorasan branch -- the group's affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- released a statement claiming the attack, according to the SITE monitoring group.
A suicide motorbike bomber was behind the blast, the statement said.
Pakistan stands united against terror
The blast came two days before Pakistan's 70th Independence Day. Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said it was an effort to mar celebrations.
"Our resolve won't succumb to any challenge," he said in a statement.
ISIS militants and the Taliban have attacked Quetta in the past.
"The militant groups involved in recent terror attacks in Quetta and other parts of restive Balochistan want to destabilise Pakistan via Balochistan," Bugti told Pakistan Forward. "The August 12 suicide attack on an army truck near Pashin-Stop Quetta proved that militants want to sabotage the freedom celebrations."
"We are in a state of war, and the enemy is making all efforts to smash the lasting peace process in our province," he said. "The militant groups want to spread misery on the occasion of independence."
"We will never disappoint the nation; the government is using all the available resources to ensure peace and stability in the province," he said, adding that on-going military operations have severely diminished militants' operational capacity.
"We have to look on the militancy in Balochistan with a broader perspective, as the enemy has engaged us in all circles," Maj. (ret.) Muhammad Omar, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Pakistan Forward.
"By creating a law and order situation during freedom celebrations, the militant groups want to convince the world that people in Balochistan are against national celebrations," he said.
The ISIS Khorasan faction is behind several recent high profile attacks in Balochistan in an attempt to gain a foothold in the province, he said, adding, "The provincial government must form a comprehensive strategy to handle these elements."
"ISIS has adopted a very clever policy for carrying out co-ordinated attacks on high value targets via like-minded banned militant groups," he said, adding that it is essential "to abolish the entire support network of militants".
[Abdul Ghani Kakar from Quetta contributed to this report.]