PESHAWAR ? A huge car bomb ripped through a crowded market in Pakistan on Wednesday killing 92 people and underscoring the gravity of the extremist threat destabilizing the nuclear-armed Muslim state.
The explosion brought down buildings in the northwestern city of Peshawar just hours after US Secretary Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan to bolster the two countries' troubled alliance against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Doctors at the Lady Reading Hospital said many of the casualties were women and children, as a routine day out in the city's main bazaar ended in horror and eclipsed Clinton's first visit as secretary of state to Pakistan.
"We have 92 dead bodies and 217 injured people. Nineteen of the dead are women and 11 are children. All the dead are civilians," Doctor Zafar Iqbal told AFP as staff declared an emergency and called for blood donations.
Peshawar is home to 2.5 million people and a gateway to the tribal badlands where the military is pressing a massive offensive against the Taliban in its toughest battle yet against a well-trained enemy on forbidding terrain.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was outraged at the "appalling" bomb and the loss of so many lives. He also condemned a Taliban assault on a UN-approved hostel in the Afghan capital that killed at least eight people.
Clinton, unveiling a $215 million energy investment and trying to fend off fierce Pakistani criticism of US policies, expressed solidarity after one of the country's deadliest attacks and called for a new partnership.
"This is our struggle as well," said Clinton, condemning the "tenacious and brutal extremist groups who kill innocent people and terrorize communities".
"We will give you the help that you need," Clinton told a joint news conference with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who insisted the country was unswerving in its fight against those responsible.
"People who are carrying out such heinous crimes want to shake our resolve. We will not buckle, we will fight you," he added.
Flames reached out of burning wreckage and smoke billowed over the collapsed rubble of a mosque and three buildings, where rescue workers picked charred bodies out of smoldering debris and gathered human flesh in plastic bags.
"It was a car bomb. Some people are still trapped," bomb disposal official Shafqat Malik told reporters as the death toll rose into the early evening.
Appalled hospital staff gave harrowing accounts of the dead and wounded piling up in hospital corridors.
"There are body parts. There are people. There are burnt people. There are dead bodies. There are wounded," said Doctor Muslim Khan.
The attack overshadowed talks with Clinton, the most senior US official to visit since US President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda and made the war in neighboring Afghanistan a top priority.
"This is a critical moment and the United States seeks to turn the page to a new partnership, with not only the government but the people of a democratic Pakistan," she said in her first public appearance in Islamabad.
The United States, which is losing record numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan, relies on Islamabad to fight militants, but ties have been tested by US drone attacks on Pakistani soil and feelings of mistrust.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani used his talks with Clinton to urge the United States to expedite "urgently needed military hardware to strengthen the hands of Pakistan?s armed forces in the ongoing operation".
He also described US drone attacks on militants in its tribal belt as a "source of major concern" and reiterated calls for Washington to provide the drone technology to Pakistan.
The United States has welcomed the assault being pressed by about 30,000 Pakistani troops against homegrown Taliban in South Waziristan, part of the tribal belt where US officials say Al-Qaeda is plotting attacks on the West.
The military claimed further gains Wednesday, saying another 25 militants had been killed and that troops were massed round a key Taliban hub.
A rising number of audacious attacks has shown Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists can target anyone in their furious backlash against the US-led "war on terror" that has killed more than 2,370 people since July 2007.