Image: Pakistan protest
K.M. Chaudary  /  AP
Pakistani lawyers in Lahore condemn suicide attack that killed 16 people assembled in Islamabad on Tuesday for a rally in support of Pakistan's suspended chief justice. Violence surrounding the judge's dismissal and reprisals over a government siege on a mosque taken by Islamic extremists has claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks.
updated 7/18/2007 3:16:00 PM ET 2007-07-18T19:16:00

Militants bombed an army convoy then raked it with gunfire Wednesday, killing 17 soldiers and continuing a wave of violence that has stirred doubts about Pakistan’s stability.

At least five suspected militants also died in clashes with security forces in North Waziristan, a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold on the Afghan border where a disputed peace deal has collapsed and Pakistani troops have moved in.

On Thursday, a suicide car bomber attacked a policy academy in another frontier area in the northwest, killing up to six people, officials said.

Academy chief Attaullah Wazir said the blast in the town of Hangu, 45 miles southwest of Peshawar, killed two policemen. However, an official at Hangu’s hospital said five policemen and one passer-by had died.

Suicide attacks, bombings and shootings blamed on Islamic extremists and a bloody army siege of radicals in Islamabad’s Red Mosque have killed more than 240 people this month.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf urged moderate Pakistanis, many of whom are pressing him to stand down and restore civilian rule, to help him take on the extremists. Still his military-led government on Wednesday also challenged U.S. claims that al-Qaida was regrouping near the Afghan frontier.

Adding to the tension, a suicide bomber killed 16 people Tuesday at a rally for Pakistan’s suspended chief justice, whose legal battle with Musharraf has galvanized opposition to military rule. A verdict in the case is expected as early as Friday.

Critics accuse Musharraf of leading the country toward civil war and using the crisis to shore up U.S. support for his 8-year-old military regime. There is growing concern that this year’s elections will be postponed.

However, Musharraf insisted Wednesday that the vote would go ahead and dismissed speculation he would declare a state of emergency. He also claimed that al-Qaida was on the run.

“Al-Qaida has weakened because of the actions taken by Pakistani forces,” Musharraf was quoted by spokesman Rashid Quereshi as telling newspaper editors.

The army said militants attacked one of its convoys 25 miles west of North Waziristan’s main town of Miran Shah with a remote-control bomb, then fired on the surviving soldiers. Seventeen soldiers were killed and more than a dozen wounded, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said.

The army said several militants were killed in retaliatory fire, and five other militants died in a clash in the town of Mir Ali.

Two local security officials said security forces also shot and killed men in a car after they refused to stop near Miran Shah. Weapons were found in the vehicle, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. Earlier, an explosion hit another convoy near Miran Shah, wounding one soldier and up to six civilians, Arshad said.

The bloodshed has clouded government efforts to resurrect a peace pact that militants disavowed over the weekend.

Criticism from U.S.
Musharraf insists the accord — under which the military scaled back its operations in the U.S.-led war on terror in return for pledges from tribal leaders to contain militancy — offers the best long-term hope of pacifying the region.

However, U.S. officials have expressed concern that it gives Islamic extremists breathing space to strengthen their operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond.

At a briefing in Washington on an intelligence report Tuesday, analysts said the pact had given al-Qaida new opportunities to set up terror training camps, improve international communications and bolster operations.

Al-Qaida was using its burgeoning strength in Pakistan, as well as Iraq, to plot terror strikes on American soil, according to the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry rejected that assessment as unsubstantiated.

“We would firmly act to eliminate any Al-Qaida hideout on the basis of specific intelligence or information,” a ministry statement said Wednesday.

“It does not help simply to make assertions about the presence or regeneration of Al-Qaida in bordering areas of Pakistan. What is needed is concrete and actionable information and intelligence sharing,” it said.

It also reiterated that no foreign security forces would be allowed to pursue militants in Pakistan.

“We have deployed troops, established checkposts and done selective fencing. Any further action that needs to be taken against terrorist elements will be taken,” the ministry said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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