PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A two-star major general with the Pakistani army and two subordinate officers were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi and the other officers were reportedly returning from an inspection of Pakistan border posts when their vehicle hit the mine in the Shahi Kot area of the Upper Dir district. The major general and his two colleagues died on the spot, officials said, reportedly the first time such a senior officer was killed by militants in the area. At least two other soldiers reportedly were injured.
The attack came after major political parties agreed last week to pursue peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which is separate from but loosely affiliated with its Afghan counterpart. It also came a day after the provincial government announced that troops would withdraw from the troubled Malakand region, of which Upper Dir is a part. Niazi commanded forces in Malakand, where the army was deployed in 2007 and 2009 in an attempt to crush the insurgency and restore government authority.
Naizi’s killing -- along with some reports that the Taliban is calling for the release of jailed militants and the withdrawal of troops from all tribal areas as part of any negotiations-- could make it more difficult to proceed with peace talks.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, according to an individual close to the group, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
In particular, it’s believed that insurgents loyal to Mullah Fazlullah, a Taliban militant who was expelled from the Swat Valley before reportedly escaping to Afghanistan, carried out the attack. Many Fazlullah loyalists take periodic sanctuary in Afghanistan's Kunar province, using the area as a base from which to launch attacks on Upper Dir district just across the border in Pakistan. Officials in Islamabad reportedly have attempted through various diplomatic channels to persuade Afghanistan to crack down on Fazlullah, with limited success.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned Sunday’s attack. “Such cowardly acts by terrorists cannot deter the morale of our armed forces,” he said in a statement.
In other developments in Pakistan, militants attacked a security post Saturday night near North Waziristan, killing two security personnel and injuring five others, officials said. And an army convoy was attacked Sunday using a remote-controlled device near Miramshah that killed one soldier and injured one.
Two more soldiers were killed and three injured when another convoy was targeted with roadside bombs near the town of Mirali. A curfew has been imposed in the area.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and staff writer Magnier from New Delhi. Special correspondent Nasir Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.