Pakistan

Roadside bomb kills former Pakistan minister

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* Former minister, two bodyguards and driver killed

* Adds to pressure on government to stabilise Pakistan

* Militants adopt new strategy in especially bloody week

* Suspected U.S. drone kills two militants

(Adds drone kills militants paragraph 14)

By Augustine Anthony

ISLAMABAD, Jan 3 (Reuters) - A bomb attack in northwest Pakistan killed a former minister on Sunday, officials said, keeping up pressure on a government struggling to contain a raging Taliban insurgency and stabilise the country.

A roadside bomb hit the car in which former provincial minister Ghani-ur-Rehman was travelling.

"The minister, his bodyguard and driver were killed," said Fazal Naeem, a police official in the town of Hangu, where the attack took place. A second bodyguard was also killed.

The blast comes in an especially bloody week, including the suicide bombing of a volleyball game in a northwestern village where anti-Taliban militias were being formed. At least 98 people were killed.

In another attack, claimed by the Taliban, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a religious procession of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city.

The blast killed 43 people, triggering riots that destroyed hundreds of buildings in the commercial capital, an image that could discourage badly needed investment in infrastructure.

NEW MILITANT TACTICS

Such large-scale operations suggest Pakistani Taliban fighters are now focusing on bombing large crowds of civilians to inflict maximum casualties and spread terror in a bid to topple the pro-American government of President Asif Ali Zardari. [ID:nSGE60100Q]

Bloodshed has intensified since July 2007 when the army cleared militants from a radical mosque in Islamabad.

The violence has also included attacks on government officials and anti-Taliban clerics. In one of the boldest operations, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a mosque near the headquarters of Pakistan's all-powerful military.

Rattled by relentless bloodshed, many Pakistanis are losing faith in Zardari, already under the spotlight because his aides could face renewed corruption charges. [ID:nSGE5BF09X].

In a sign of growing security fears, the United Nations will withdraw some of its staff from Pakistan because of safety concerns, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The instability is likely to raise more concern in Washington, which sees Pakistan as a frontline state in the fight against a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The United States wants Islamabad to both defeat homegrown Pakistani Taliban and wipe out militants along the border who cross into Afghanistan to attack Western forces.

A missile fired by a suspected U.S. drone killed two militants on Sunday in the tribal region of North Waziristan on the Afghan border, officials said. The region is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Pakistan has little incentive to root out militants focused on defeating what they call "occupation troops" in Afghanistan.

It sees those militants as vital leverage against rival India's influence in Afghanistan, especially if the United States pulls out before Afghanistan is stabilised. [ID:nISL220631 (Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Tim Pearce)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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