PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A homicide car bomber killed five people near northwestern Pakistan’s main city Tuesday, and authorities urged residents to flee a Taliban stronghold where a much-criticized peace deal appears to be unraveling.
Violence is building in Pakistan just as President Asif Ali Zardari prepares for talks in Washington this week expected to center on the Obama administration’s demands for tough action against militants threatening both nuclear-armed Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
Police said Tuesday’s bomber rammed a vehicle carrying troops near Peshawar, the capital of the embattled province where the military last week launched an operation to reverse a Taliban advance toward the capital.
The blast killed one paramilitary soldier and four civilians, senior police official Ghafoor Khan Afridi said. Another 21 people, including 10 troops and police and two children, were injured, Afridi said.
Initial reports that four troops had died were incorrect, he said.
Pakistani militants have threatened a campaign of suicide blasts in retaliation for U.S. missile strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban strongholds into Pakistan’s northwest and for a string of military operations by government forces.
Pakistani troops last week fought their way into Buner, a district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, to reverse a Taliban takeover that triggered particular alarm in the West.
The army says it has killed more than 100 militants as it attempts to drive the militants back into the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley.
The fighting has put a severe strain on a controversial peace pact centered on Swat under which the government is introducing Islamic law in the surrounding region.
On Tuesday, the top administrator in Swat said authorities were lifting a curfew so that people could leave Swat’s main town of Mingora.
Khushal Khan said Taliban militants were roaming the area and laying mines. He wouldn’t say whether an army offensive — which would spell the end of the peace pact — was imminent.
“If the security forces engage them (militants), then there will be additional threat to the lives of the public,” Khan told The Associated Press.
He said a camp for those displaced had been set up in the nearby town of Dargai.