PESHAWAR, Mar 14 – A suicide bomb attack targeting police in northwest Pakistan Friday killed at least seven people, officers said, the latest violence to hit peace talks between the government and Taliban militants.
The blast came in the suburbs of the northwestern city of Peshawar, close to the lawless tribal areas that are a haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.
Dialogue aimed at ending the Islamists’ seven-year insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives, resumed last week with government negotiators saying the process was ready to move to a new phase.
But a ceasefire declared by the Pakistani Taliban on March 1 was shaken just two days later by a major attack on a court complex in Islamabad that left 11 people dead.
The main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction denied that attack, which was claimed by a splinter group, but it nevertheless prompted many observers to question the militants’ commitment to dialogue.
Friday’s attack in Sarband village on the edge of Peshawar close to the Khyber tribal district came as Taliban negotiators met the TTP leadership to discuss the next steps in the talks process.
The target of the blast was a police armoured personnel carrier, officers said.
“It was a suicide attack and the bomber approached the police vehicle on foot,” Najeeb-ur- Rahman, a senior police officer, told AFP.
“The death toll has been risen to seven. At least 28 people were also wounded.”
Mohammad Faisal, another police officer, confirmed the attack and death toll.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in militant attacks in Pakistan since the emergence of the TTP after a military raid on a radical mosque in 2007, according to an AFP tally.
Continued militant violence, the Islamabad court attack and a roadside bomb targeting security forces last week have threatened to derail the talks process.
More than 120 have died in attacks since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced dialogue with the militants in late January.
Talks were a key campaign pledge for Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
But many analysts are sceptical about their chances for success, given the Taliban’s demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
Sharif’s announcement came at a time when many had been expecting a full military offensive in North Waziristan, the tribal area that is a stronghold for militants.
The US has long pushed Pakistan to do more to eradicate militant sanctuaries in its seven tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
On Friday defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said talks remained the government’s preferred option but they would resort to a military offensive if they failed.