ISLAMABAD — Taliban extremists in Pakistan are claiming responsibility for a roadside blast in a remote district that killed a regional army commander and two of his subordinates. Critics see the attack as a blow to government initiatives aimed at engaging in peace talks with Islamist militants.
Army officials say that Major-General Sanaullah Niazi was returning to his regional headquarters Sunday after visiting an outpost near the Afghan border when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle.
The attack took place in the district of Upper Dir. A lieutenant colonel was also among the victims.
Insurgent violence has frequently targeted security forces in parts of northwestern Pakistan, but killing senior generals is extremely rare.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that “such cowardly acts” will not harm the morale of the armed forces, adding the army has made “substantial sacrifices to protect the nation against the menace of terrorism”.
A spokesman for the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The latest violence comes just days after Prime Minister Sharif’s government organized a national conference in which major political parties endorsed his plan to engage in peace talks with the Taliban.
However, there is widespread skepticism about peace talks. Critics maintain that previous attempts emboldened the militants and allowed them to regroup and continue their anti-state activities.
National Security Affairs Editor Ejaz Haider works at a commercial Pakistani TV station. He says Sunday’s attack could part of efforts by the Taliban to strengthen their bargaining position before any talks. “Now, this is the kind of the thing that the state should be doing. But unfortunately the state, instead of doing this, instead of talking from a position of strength, has actually put all its eggs in the talks basket without really creating space for itself which will make peace talks meaningful or they will have the advantage of talking from a position of strength," he said.
The Taliban is waging a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces, in recent years.
The Islamist group has welcomed the government’s peace move and indicated it is open to talks, but the spokesman defended Sunday’s attack, saying there is no ceasefire yet.
The militants reportedly demand that Pakistan release all Taliban prisoners and withdraw its troops from tribal areas before they will participate in peace talks. Most political analysts think authorities are unlikely to accept these demands and say the latest bombing may have dealt a blow to the prospects for peace efforts.