Militants threaten sovereignty:Pak

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said Friday that militants threatened the sovereignty of the nation after a twin suicide bombing capped an avalanche of attacks killing more than 170 people this month.

At crisis talks on plotting a course of action, army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani gave a detailed briefing on the national security situation and challenges facing the nuclear-armed state.

"The political leadership assembled together noted that there already existed an across-the-board consensus in the country to root out extremism and militancy," a statement issued after the meeting said.

The military and political leaders condemned the recent upsurge of terror incidents and observed that the militant elements "pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state."

They reaffirmed the national consensus "to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements."

Chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the meeting, which lasted more than four hours, was attended by leaders of all political parties.

It followed a spike in a two-year Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked campaign of suicide bombing and armed assaults in Pakistan, on the frontline of the US-led war on terror.

A woman suicide bomber on a motorbike and a car bomber unleashed fresh chaos Friday, detonating near a police investigations office in a garrison area of the northwestern city of Peshawar, heavily damaging the building, police said.

It was only the second suicide bomb attack by a woman in Pakistan. The twin blasts flung human limbs across the street, splattering blood on the ground and scattering shoes, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.

"Police tried to intercept a woman sitting on a motorcycle with a terrorist. She blew herself up and after that there was another blast when a suicide attacker sitting in a car exploded," said Liaqat Ali Khan, city police chief.

"There are two women and a child among the dead. The car exploded close to the police building. The building was badly damaged," Sahibzada Mohammad Anees, the top administrative official, told reporters.

Officials said that 13 people were killed, including three policemen, and that seven wounded were in critical condition.

The blood-soaked identity card of a second-grade schoolboy lay on the ground as rescue workers pulled bodies and the wounded from the rubble.

The main gate of the two-storey police Central Investigation Agency building was destroyed, the upper portion of a mosque on the premises was damaged and a crater was punched out of the road in front.

Home to 2.5 million Pakistanis, Peshawar is the largest city in the northwest and lies on the edge of the lawless tribal belt where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants sheltered after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

For months the military has been planning a ground offensive to crush Taliban sanctuaries in South Waziristan, where a suspected Taliban rocket attack killed three Pakistani soldiers at an army camp on Friday.

On Thursday, gunmen blasted into three security buildings in Lahore, in the country's political heartland, five days after gunmen besieged the army headquarters near the capital Islamabad and humiliated the military.

The frequency and sophistication of a string of attacks since October 5 has underscored the weakness of government security forces, whom critics say lack the necessary military hardware and counter-insurgency expertise.

"Terrorists have taken the initiative out of the hands of the security agencies, keeping them busy in cities and not allowing them to target" remote areas, said analyst Hasan Askari.

Officials have interpreted the attacks as a bid to thwart a widely anticipated military offensive in South Waziristan, where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda carved out safe havens after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

"You don't have to make statements about launching an offensive in advance. It should be swift and a surprise," said Askari.

Although there was no formal claim of responsibility, suspicion has fallen on Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) movement and Al-Qaeda, as well as homegrown Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad.