PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — Militants in Pakistan's restive tribal region kept up pressure on government forces Wednesday with an ambush of a military convoy that killed 17 soldiers, authorities said.
The attack in the volatile North Waziristan region was the latest in an upsurge of bloodletting that has left more than 100 people dead in the last six days and posed a severe challenge to the rule of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf, whom the U.S. considers a key ally in the battle against Islamic terrorism, called on Pakistanis to support him in rooting out extremists. He blamed Islamists for a suicide bombing Tuesday in Islamabad, the capital. At least 16 people were killed in that assault.
"If suicide attacks continue, then we are in for some serious trouble. This is the time to go after them," Musharraf told a group of newspaper editors Wednesday.
Early today, a police official in the city of Hangu said a suicide bomber rammed a car into the entrance of a parade ground at the provincial police academy. The blast killed six police officers and one civilian, and injured more than two dozen others.
Wednesday's ambush on troops in the northwest came days after militants in North Waziristan, a rugged and lawless region where many Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are believed to be operating, renounced a 10-month-old cease-fire.
Islamic extremists in the area vowed to exact revenge for Musharraf's decision last week to storm Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, from which militants had mounted a vigilante-style anti-vice campaign. More than 100 people died in the raid.
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, an army spokesman, said militants hit the troop convoy with a remote-controlled bomb outside Miram Shah, North Waziristan's main town.
In the ensuing chaos, the attackers raked the convoy with gunfire. Seventeen soldiers were killed and 12 wounded.
Arshad said more than a dozen militants were killed.
The government is trying to revive the defunct peace pact with the pro-Taliban militants that was signed in September. Under the accord, Pakistani troops were to pull back to their barracks in the region, and militants in the area were to take responsibility for expelling foreign fighters in their midst and curtailing cross-border attacks on North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan.
The agreement was widely criticized as giving a free hand to the militants, who failed to keep their end of the deal.
But the government has called a meeting today of tribal leaders in Peshawar to discuss the possibility of helping negotiate a revival of the agreement. Sources said the militants would demand that government forces abandon checkpoints in the region, cease military operations and compensate victims of past operations.
Critics accuse Musharraf of using the growing violence to try to shore up support from the United States and his own people, many of whom are weary of his regime and have demanded that he step down or at least give up his uniform.
The suicide bombing in Islamabad struck a rally in support of suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, a critic of Musharraf's rule. Although the president blamed the blast on militants, others say that Pakistan's intelligence agency may have been behind it.
On Wednesday, Musharraf warned of Taliban elements in tribal areas infiltrating the rest of Pakistan.
"Extremists are trying to gain strength," he said, "and the fear is if they are not nipped in the bud, they will become a more formidable challenge."
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Chu from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Special correspondent Mubashir Zaidi in Islamabad contributed to this report.