A suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into a Pakistan Air Force bus yesterday, killing at least eight men and wounding about 40, officials said.
The assailant struck around 7am near an air base in Sargodha, about 200km south of Islamabad, air force spokesman Sarfraz Ahmed said. All the dead were air force employees, said Sahid Malik, an official at the hospital treating the victims.
Army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad called it "an act of terrorism."
Pakistan has been rocked by a string of suicide bombings in recent weeks, deepening political turmoil ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether President Pervez Musharraf's Oct. 6 presidential victory was constitutional. There are fears he could impose a state of emergency if judges rule against him, jeopardizing the country's transition to civilian rule.
Earlier this week a bomber blew himself up near Musharraf's army office in Rawalpindi, a garrison city just south of the capital, killing seven.
There have been no claims of responsibility for the recent attacks, but most have been blamed on Islamic extremists, who also have engaged in deadly clashes with the military in the volatile northwest.
Elsewhere, security forces were struggling to contain militants directly challenging the state's authority and pushing for the imposition of Taliban-style strictures on society.
Security forces backed by gunship helicopters killed up to 70 militants in two days of clashes in troubled Swat Valley, the army said yesterday quoting police and paramilitary sources.
An army helicopter attacked militants on Wednesday in the Sambad area of the mountainous region 130km northwest of Islamabad after it came under fire. Eighteen militants were killed, including Commander Tariq, an aide to the hard-line cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, provincial home secretary Badshah Gul Wazir said.
Early yesterday, militants attacked hilltop positions of security forces in the Khwaza Khela area, triggering a gunbattle, said Ali Rahman, a local police official, adding that troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery continued targeting militant facilities, killing at least five people.
The security forces suffered no casualties, he said.
In other developments, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto left for Dubai yesterday, officials said, in a surprise move after canceling the trip overnight due to rumors of an impending state of emergency.
"I am going to Dubai to see my children and ailing mother," Bhutto was quoted as telling members of her Pakistan People's Party at Karachi airport by senior party official Agha Siraj Durrani.
"I will return to Pakistan on November 8," Durrani quoted her saying.
She is due to give a speech in Rawalpindi the following day, Durrani said.
Bhutto said on Wednesday she had decided to postpone her visit "due to rumors of the possible imposition of an emergency in view of the pending cases before the Supreme Court about General Musharraf's elections."
The US and Britain have been quietly pushing a scenario which would see Musharraf as a civilian president and Bhutto serving a third time as prime minister after general elections in January.