A bomb planted by Taliban insurgents ripped through a vehicle carrying Pakistani troops yesterday, killing 20 soldiers and prompting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cancel his trip to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos this week.
At least 30 others were wounded as the convoy prepared to leave the volatile northwestern town of Bannu for nearby North Waziristan, a lawless, tribal region on the Afghan border where many al Qaeda-linked militant groups are holed up.
The attack - the biggest on Pakistani security forces in months - dealt a major blow to the army at a time when Pakistan is already under US pressure to do more to contain the insurgency on its western frontier.
The army said the bomb had been planted in a civilian vehicle rented locally in order to transport troops to North Waziristan. The device exploded as soldiers got inside the car and prepared to leave.
"With the help of God we claim responsibility for this," Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said. "The army is our enemy. We will carry out many more attacks like this."
The blast came despite recent hints by the Taliban that it might be theoretically open to the idea of peace talks with the government. And yet attacks continue unabated, a concern to regional powers already anxious about security as most foreign troops prepare to leave neighbouring Afghanistan this year.
The group had earlier vowed to step up attacks on security and government forces after electing a new hardline leader, Mullah Fazlullah, at the end of last year.
Sharif condemned the attack and cancelled his trip to the Davos gathering which runs from Wednesday to Saturday.
"Our nation is united against extremism and terrorism and the sacrifices rendered by our citizens and personnel of law enforcing agencies will not go in vain," he said.
Sharif came to power last year promising to step up efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
Sharif was elected prime minister last May in part by promising to end the fighting through a negotiated settlement instead of through military operations.