MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Hundreds of students chanting “Death to America” protested Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-led fight against terrorism, as the government said Tuesday that security forces would show “no leniency” in the conflict with Islamic militants.
In the latest violence, a missile strike near the Afghan border destroyed a suspected militant hideout and killed 12 people inside, intelligence and government officials said.
Pakistan is facing a surge in religious extremism that has seen pro-Taliban fighters gain sway in the northwest and launch a wave of suicide bombings in cities and assaults on troops struggling to maintain a grip on the borderlands.
About 370 people have died this month in militant-related violence nationwide, according to an Associated Press tally based on figures from the military and other officials.
In Miran Shah, the main town in the tribal border region of North Waziristan, more than 500 students and others rallied Tuesday to demand an end to Pakistan’s military cooperation with the United States.
“The Pakistan army is committing atrocities,” said Najib Ullah, a student. “They must stop.”
Pakistan allied itself with Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
On Tuesday, a meeting of top security officials in Islamabad, chaired by Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Hamid Nawaz, affirmed the commitment to combat militancy. It directed authorities “to take stringent measures to curb (terrorist) elements involved in militancy and violence, with no leniency.”
Tuesday’s missile strike happened in Khushali Torikhel, a village in North Waziristan about 40 miles east of the border, local officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
A resident said an armed drone may have carried out the strike.
“We could see a small, white plane flying over the village for the past several days,” villager Dildar Khan said.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said he had no information about any missile strike.
The government often uses airstrikes to attack militants in areas that its ground forces and artillery cannot reach, but some of the aerial attacks near the border in recent years are believed to have been launched by missile-armed U.S. drones flying from Afghanistan.
Authorities in both the U.S. and Afghanistan have denied knowledge of such operations.
President Pervez Musharraf, who returned home Tuesday after a weeklong trip to Europe, has come under increasing pressure because of the escalating violence. His popularity is suffering ahead of parliamentary elections on Feb. 18.
Also Tuesday, police and paramilitary counterterrorism forces clashed with a heavily armed group of Islamic militants after a car chase in the southern city of Karachi. At least two police officers died and four were wounded, while three militants died and five were arrested.
Capt. Fazal Mahmood said security forces recovered explosives, weapons and ammunition from the building where the five were hiding.