LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Militants launched a string of attacks in the Pakistani heartland and in the troubled northwest on Thursday, killing 31 people after a week of violence in which more than 100 people died.
The attacks on police in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, and a car bomb in Kohat in the northwest, come ahead of an expected military offensive against the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border.
Later, a car bomb was set off by remote control in a neighbourhood where government workers live in the northwestern city of Peshawar killing a child and wounding about a dozen people, police said.
The violence, just days after a daring raid on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, underscored the risk posed by militants to Punjab, Pakistan’s most economically important province and the country’s traditional seat of power.
“First the (North West) Frontier province was on the front line, now they are playing their games in Punjab,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Geo television.
The government says most attacks are plotted in South Waziristan and carried out by Taliban, often with the help of allies from militant groups based in Punjab province.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to crack down on Islamist militancy as President Barack Obama considers a boost in troop numbers fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Ten gunmen, some of them teenagers, were killed in the attacks on three police centres in Lahore.
Seven people, including a gunman, were killed at a regional headquarters of the police’s Federal Investigation Agency. One gunman escaped and one was captured, security officials said.
A suicide car-bomber attacked the same building in March last year killing 21 people.
Gunmen also attacked two police training centres, one a training school attacked this year and the other an elite police academy set in fields in the city outskirts.
Eleven police, six of them recruits, and four gunmen were killed at the Manawa training centre, police said. Three of the black-clad attackers blew themselves up.
A policeman, a civilian and five gunmen were killed at the academy. Three gunmen blew themselves up and two, including one who was about 16, were shot by snipers, police said.
The attacks in Lahore spread fear and sirens from police and other emergency vehicles wailed over the city as hundreds of police and soldiers sealed off the three sites.
Pakistan’s stock market had slipped as the violence escalated at the start of the week, but the main index has since recouped the losses and rose 0.4 percent on Thursday despite the latest bloodshed.
“The market is sort of used to terror attacks,” said Mohammed Sohail, chief executive at brokers Topline Securities.
“These high-profile targets are a concern, but investors are optimistic that eventually the Waziristan operation will take place and the terrorists will be attacked.”
Shortly before the attacks in Lahore, a suicide car bomber set off his explosives outside a police station in Kohat killing 11 people, police said.
There was no immediate claim for Thursday’s violence.
The Taliban said it carried out the brazen assault on the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi and some other attacks and vowed more in revenge for the killing of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike in August.
The government in June ordered the army to launch an offensive in South Waziristan. Since then the military has been conducting air and artillery strikes to soften up militant defences.
Aircraft flew repeated bombing sorties while soldiers used artillery to attack militants in South Waziristan on Thursday, security officials said. They later said 27 Taliban were killed. There was no independent verification of that toll.
The government says the assault against an estimated 10,000 hard core Taliban is imminent but it will be up to the army to decide when to send in ground troops.
“Such barbaric, inhuman and un-Islamic terrorist acts only strengthen our resolve to fight terrorism with more vitality,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a statement.
Separately, a U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in the North Waziristan region, killing four Afghan Taliban militants linked to a faction led by veteran militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, Pakistani officials said.
The United States, struggling with an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan and frustrated with Pakistan’s failure to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries on its side of the border, stepped up attacks by its drones in September last year.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony, Sami Paracha; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson