At least eight Pakistani soldiers were killed Thursday in a roadside explosion near the Afghan border in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces here in months, officials said.
The blast in the volatile North Waziristan tribal area, a hotbed of Islamist militants, came as peace talks between the Pakistani government and a leading militant organization remained deadlocked.
The Pakistani army said in a brief statement that an improvised explosive device detonated near a vehicle traveling along the road that runs from Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, to the Afghan border. The vehicle was carrying soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which has long battled militants in the tribal areas, the statement said.
Officials said that three more soldiers were injured and were being treated at a military hospital.
After the explosion, security forces backed by helicopter gunships reached the area and began searching for suspects, but officials said no arrests had been made.
Security forces have been attacked repeatedly in the lawless tribal belt as well as in the neighboring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since a cease-fire declared by Pakistani Taliban militants expired in mid-April. The militant group known by its Urdu name, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, said it would not extend the truce unless the Pakistani government released 300 prisoners and met other conditions.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is committed to reviving peace talks with the militants, telling the BBC Urdu Service earlier this week that despite the ongoing violence, negotiations were the best chance for peace.
But experts have said that the militant organization, which is tangentially related to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, contains too many disparate groups for it to be a reliable negotiating partner.
Clashes continued Thursday between two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan factions in the Shawal region of North Waziristan, where three days of fighting have killed at least 20 people, according to officials.
The fighting is between groups loyal to rival commanders, Said Khan Sejna and Sheher Yar, both of whom were considered close allies of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistanl leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in November.
Ali is a special correspondent. Staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Mumbai, India.