PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (Reuters) – A car packed with mortar bombs blew up on a busy street in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Saturday, killing 11 people hours after a suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at militants in another region and killed 10.
The violence came as the Pakistani military battled Taliban militants in a northwestern valley in an offensive that has forced more than 900,000 people from their homes.
The blast in Peshawar blew up a passing school bus and city police chief Sifwat Ghayyur said four children and two women were among the dead.
“It was a remote controlled bomb,” Ghayyur told Reuters.
Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged over the past two years, raising fears for its stability.
The insecurity has also alarmed the United States which needs Pakistani action to help defeat al Qaeda and bring stability to neighbouring Afghanistan.
The army launched an offensive in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, last week to stop the spread of Taliban influence.
More than 900,000 have fled from the former tourist valley and the United Nations has warned of a humanitarian tragedy unless Pakistan gets massive help. There was no claim of responsibility for the blast but government officials have warned of the danger of militant bomb attacks in response to the offensive against the Taliban in their Swat bastion.
The attack in Swat was launched after the collapse of a peace pact that the United States had criticised as tantamount to “abdicating” to the militants.
Earlier, a suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at militants in the North Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region, on the Afghan border to the southwest of Peshawar.
Pakistani intelligence officials said 10 militants, including two Arabs, were killed.
The United States, alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, began stepping up drone attacks on Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Pakistan last year. There has been no let-up since President Barack Obama’s administration took office in January, despite objections from Pakistan.
Two missiles were fired into the Khaisor area of the North Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region at around 8 a.m. (0200 GMT), the security officials said.
One missile hit a house and the other struck a nearby vehicle. Khaisor is about 20 km (12 miles) south of Mir Ali town, a hub for foreign militants in the region.
It was third such attack this month.
The United States has carried out about 40 drone air strikes since the beginning of last year, most since September, killing more than 330 people, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani security officials, district government officials and residents.
Pakistan says the drones violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster militant support.
The spread of Taliban influence and worsening security have raised the doomsday scenario of militants allied to al Qaeda gaining control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Analysts say that while the Taliban have almost no chance of ever being in a position to launch a nuclear warhead, there is a danger militants could exploit chaos to steal enough radioactive material to build a “dirty bomb”.
U.S. and allied officials have expressed mounting concern over what would happen to Pakistan’s warheads if the country lurched further into chaos.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani dismissed such fears on Saturday, saying Pakistan’s “detractors” were spreading disinformation about the security of its nuclear weapons to undermine the country.
Nuclear weapons were the cornerstone of Pakistan’s policy of deterrence and it would retain the weapons under “fail-safe security” at all costs, he said.
“No amount of coercion, direct or indirect, will ever force Pakistan to compromise on its core security interest,” Gilani said in a speech to his party leaders.