ISLAMABAD — A senior Pakistani general was killed in an insurgent bombing in the country's northwest Sunday, bringing into sharp focus the government's recent overtures toward the Taliban for peace talks.
The roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi in Upper Dir district as he returned from visiting troops on the border with Afghanistan, a military statement said. Another officer and a soldier also died in the attack, for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
Niazi was the commander for the nearby Swat Valley, a mountainous district where the army mounted a major anti-Taliban operation in 2009 and where the schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai was shot by militants last year.
News of the killing, one day after the provincial government announced a phased withdrawal of army troops from Swat, met with widespread condemnation.
The army had made "substantial sacrifices" to protect the country against terrorism, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement, adding, "Such cowardly acts by terrorists cannot deter the morale of our armed forces."
On Saturday, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, controlled by Sharif's political rival, announced that the withdrawal of army troops from Swat would start in mid October. In the first phase, soldiers would pull out of Buner and Shangla districts, the government said.
Rival Imran Khan has for years advocated talking to the Taliban instead of fighting them, a position that has now become the national government's policy. A meeting of all the major parties Sept. 9 authorized the government to initiate a peace process.
But an apparent Taliban statement put forth the view that peace talks could be distant.
"We are at war with the Pakistan government, and we are assessing their sincerity about peace talks," Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, was quoted. "If we find that the government is serious, we can talk. Otherwise, we will continue our attacks."