ISLAMABADÂ – A suicide bomber killed a Pakistani soldier and wounded nine Tuesday, highlighting the growing militant threat a day after the top U.S. commander in the region held security talks with Pakistani leaders.
The attack on a paramilitary post in the northwestern town of Doaba was the latest in an intensifying campaign by Islamist militants that has raised fears for Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally also facing an economic crisis.
Doaba police official Omar Faraz Khattack said initially the soldiers were wounded: “One of them died on the way to hospital and one is seriously wounded.”
Another police officer said a human head, apparently that of the suicide bomber, had been found at the scene.
Violence has intensified in Pakistan, most of it in the northwest, since last year with a series of suicide attacks, most on the police, military and political leaders, in which hundreds of people have been killed.
The military has been battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants in two parts of the northwest since August, and the militants have stepped up their attacks in response.
Warplanes hit militant positions in the Bajaur region on Tuesday but there was no word on casualties, a military official said.
Two rockets landed near the runway at the airport in the northwestern city of Peshawar late Monday but caused no damage.
General David Petraeus arrived in Pakistan Sunday at the beginning of his first foreign tour since taking charge of U.S. Central Command, underscoring U.S. concern about a country seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan and to defeating al Qaeda.
U.S. analysts say Pakistan is facing a major threat from Islamist militants at a time when its new civilian government is engulfed in economic problems.
The United States says militant sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan are the biggest threat to Afghan security.
“SLAVE OF AMERICA”
The Petraeus visit comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan have been strained by a series of cross-border U.S. strikes, most by missile-firing pilotless drone aircraft, on militant targets in Pakistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari told Petraeus in talks Monday the attacks should stop.
Pakistan says the strikes are a violation of its sovereignty and undermine efforts to isolate the militants and rally public opinion behind the unpopular campaign against militancy, which many people see as America’s war.
About 4,000 people protested in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border against the strikes and what some saw as the government’s collusion in them.
“The government of Pakistan is a slave of America,” cleric Mir Azam Khan told the crowd.
Petraeus told CNN Pakistani leaders had been forthright about the cross-border strikes.
“We got certain messages with each of those we talked to … and some of those were very clear and we have to take those on board,” Petraeus said.
The United States and NATO are losing ground against an escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, despite the presence of 64,000 Western troops, while al Qaeda has regained strength in Pakistan’s tribal region.
Frustration over deteriorating Afghan security appears to have led to more aggressive U.S. cross-border action.
Petraeus said Pakistan was aware of the threat it faced and was committed to acting on it.
“All parties recognize the nature of the threat, the significance of the extremist activity and the threat it poses to this country, to Afghanistan and beyond this region,” he said.