President Pervez Musharraf made a fresh pledge on Friday to eradicate Islamic extremism from Pakistan, as the latest incident in a wave of militant violence left four rebels dead.
Military ruler Musharraf, who faces US threats of unilateral action against Al-Qaeda insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas, made the vow at a meeting of chiefs in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, a statement said.
"Extremism and militancy are the biggest threat to security of our country and no effort shall be spared to eradicate this menace and ensure sustainability of economic progress," the statement quoted Musharraf as saying.
The president -- who is also army chief and seized power in a coup in 1999 and other top military officers were briefed on the security situation in the tribal areas and other parts of northwest Pakistan, it said.
Amid growing international pressure on Musharraf to take military action against Islamists, the statement said that the meeting reviewed the "operational preparedness" of the army.
More than 200 people have been killed in militant-related bloodshed since Pakistan troops stormed the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad on July 10-11, leaving scores of Islamic rebels dead.
On Friday, a bomb exploded near an army convoy coming from the northwestern town of Bannu to the tribal district of North Waziristan, where pro-Taliban militants tore up a peace deal with the government on July 15, officials said.
"After the IED (improvised explosive device) exploded, which caused no damage to the security forces convoy, militants also resorted to firing. In the ensuing clash four militants were killed," an army statement said.
Four AK-47 assault rifles, six grenades and radio sets were also recovered from the militants, it added.
Residents said helicopter gunship also flew overhead during the fighting.
Earlier rebels fired three rockets at a major army base in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. Troops responded to the rocket attack with heavy weapons fire. Again, there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Hundreds of tribesmen demanding the withdrawal of new checkpoints in their region launched a protest campaign Friday by hoisting black flags on rooftops, after a call by religious leaders from mosques in Miranshah, residents said.
Some 800 people shouted slogans against the government holding it responsible for the killing of "innocent" people, witnesses said. Jeeps fitted with loudspeakers appealed to those present to join the demonstration.
Separately four people including a police intelligence official and a Muslim cleric were wounded when a bomb exploded Friday at a bicycle shop in Lakkai Marwat, in North West Frontier Province, near the tribal areas, officials said.
The continuing violence comes as Musharraf faces a political crisis ahead of general elections that are due by early next year, with growing calls from the opposition for him to quit as head of the army.
Pakistan's Supreme Court strengthened by its decision last month to reinstate the chief justice whom Musharraf had tried to sack -- on Friday ordered the release of a top opposition leader jailed for treason in 2004.
Politician Javed Hashmi, from the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had been sentenced to 23 years imprisonment for distributing a letter which he said was from army officers against Musharraf.
The judiciary's growing independence raises the specter for Musharraf that it will oppose his bid to be re-elected as president-cum-army chief by the outgoing national parliament, most likely in September.