ISLAMABAD — Dozens of Taliban insurgents attacked a security post on the outskirts of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan late Sunday, killing at least six security personnel. The attack came a day after a deadly bombing in the region. The stepped up militant attacks are raising questions of whether Pakistan will launch a military offensive against a major militant stronghold along the Afghan border.
Pakistan officials say that more than 100 Taliban insurgents armed with machine guns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades surrounded the post before opening fire. The attack triggered a bloody gunfight that lasted for several hours.
Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain later told reporters that the insurgents had come from the nearby Khyber tribal region. He says security forces successfully repulsed the attack but suffered several casualties in the fighting.
He says “the terrorists also suffered heavy casualties but took the bodies with them and vented their anger by beheading two dead police officers while retreating”.
The security post near the northwestern city is jointly manned by police and a paramilitary force and has previously come under attack.
The late Sunday raid came a day after a powerful car bomb in the nearby Dara Adam Khel tribal area killed more than 15 people.
Some in Pakistan suggest the violence could be in response to recent military successes in the traditional insurgent strongholds near the Afghan border. Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador.
“These have to be seen as much as desperate acts as they [insurgents] are deprived of the bases from which they operate," said Lodhi.
The stepped up insurgent attacks also come amid reports Pakistani authorities are considering a long-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan, a sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants on the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani civilian and military officials have repeatedly said the tribal agency harbors "perpetrators of major terrorist attacks" around the country, but they have so far ruled out the possibility of an imminent offensive.
Major opposition political and religious parties in Pakistan are opposed to an operation in North Waziristan out of fear of a bloody backlash.
Former ambassador Lodhi says without strong public backing, the military may not be willing to undertake a North Waziristan offensive.
“The real question is whether public resolve has steeled itself enough to withstand these kinds of attacks as the government mulls over what action it should take to try to bring an end to this violence," said Lodhi.
The United States has also been pushing Pakistan to mobilize its troops to uproot bases of the militant Haqqani network, that Washington says is responsible for deadly cross-border attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Islamabad's refusal to act in North Waziristan has further strained relations between Islamabad and Washington.