Taliban militants attacked Pakistani forces and recaptured a strategic town on Tuesday while two suicide bomb blasts at an Islamic university in the capital killed six people and wounded at least 20, officials said.
The government made an immediate link between the university attack and an offensive against the Taliban, with Interior Minister Rehman Malik saying “all roads are leading towards South Waziristan”.
The army on Monday had captured the small town of Kotkai, the birthplace of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud on the approach to an insurgent base in south Waziristan, but militants struck back on Tuesday to retake it, security officials said.
Remote and rugged South Waziristan, with its rocky mountains and patchy forests cut through by dry creeks and ravines, is a global hub for militants, and the offensive is being closely followed by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.
An intelligence official said jets bombed Taliban positions in and around Kotkai after the militant counter-attack.
The town, also the hometown of Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Taliban commander known as “the mentor of suicide bombers”, is a gateway to a militant stronghold at Sararogha.
The army says 90 militants and 13 soldiers have been killed since the long-awaited offensive began on Saturday.
It is not possible to verify the reports as foreign reporters are not allowed in and it is dangerous for Pakistani reporters to visit.
Pakistan’s army has struck deals to keep two powerful, anti-US tribal chiefs from joining the battle against the government, officials said on Monday.
Under the terms agreed to about three weeks ago, Taliban renegades Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur will stay out of the current fight in parts of South Waziristan controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. They will also allow the army to move through their own lands unimpeded, giving the military additional fronts from which to attack the Taliban.
In exchange, the army will ease patrols and bombings in the lands controlled by Nazir and Bahadur, two Pakistani intelligence officials based in the region told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.