Miranshah, Pakistan, Jan 19 (Reuters): A bomb planted by Taliban insurgents ripped through a vehicle carrying Pakistani troops on Sunday, killing 20 soldiers.
The attack prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cancel his trip to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos this week.
At least 30 others were wounded as the convoy prepared to leave the volatile northwestern town of Bannu for nearby North Waziristan, a lawless, tribal region on the Afghan border where many al Qaeda-linked groups are holed up.
The bold, daylight attack — the biggest on Pakistani security forces in months — dealt a major blow to the army at a time when Pakistan is already under strong US pressure to do more to contain the insurgency on its western frontier.
The army said the bomb had been planted in a civilian vehicle rented for transporting troops to North Waziristan. The device exploded as soldiers got inside the car and prepared to leave.
“With the help of God we claim responsibility for this,” Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid said in a telephone call from an undisclosed location.
“The army is our enemy. We will carry out many more attacks like this.”
The blast, which was heard all around Bannu, came despite recent hints by the Taliban that they might be theoretically open to the idea of peace talks with the government.
And yet attacks continue unabated, a concern to regional powers already anxious about security as most foreign troops prepare to leave neighbouring Afghanistan this year.
Sharif condemned the attack and cancelled his trip to the Davos, which runs from January 22 to 25 and draws thousands of the world’s most influential people.
“Our nation is united against extremism and terrorism and the sacrifices rendered by our citizens and personnel of law enforcing agencies will not go in vain,” he said in a statement.
Sharif came to power last year promising to step up efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks and find a negotiated solution to years of fighting.
Even though both sides have made tentative overtures towards negotiations, no meaningful discussions have taken place for years. The Pakistani Taliban, who are loosely aligned with their Afghan namesakes, are also deeply fractured, making policy coordination all the more difficult within the group.