Politicians called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban on Thursday, as the group killed 18 people in a pair of bombings in the country's northwest on a police post and a vehicle carrying anti-Taliban militiamen.
The call for peace negotiations followed a meeting by many of the country's main political parties in the capital, Islamabad, to discuss the issue. Momentum for peace talks has grown in recent weeks as both the Taliban and the government have said they are interested.
"We agreed that bringing peace through talks should be the first priority," Asfandyar Wali Khan, head of the Awami National Party, said at a press conference after the meeting.
The ANP, which is the strongest party in the northwest and has been repeatedly attacked by the Taliban, has taken the lead in calling for talks with the group. The party convened Thursday's meeting, which was also attended by the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N.
There are many skeptics who doubt the militants truly want peace and point to past agreements with the Taliban that fell apart. Those deals have been criticized for allowing the militants to regroup and rebuild their strength to resume fighting the government and foreign troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Others say there is no alternative to negotiations since numerous military operations targeting the Taliban's sanctuaries in the northwest have failed to break the group's back.
But it is uncertain how much common ground the two sides would find if they met face-to-face. The Taliban have demanded that Pakistan sever ties with the United States and impose Islamic law in the country. Neither the country's elected leaders nor the military have shown any inclination to agree to those demands.
The police post targeted was located in Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives next to the post, killing 11 policemen and wounding 23 others, said police spokesman Fazal Naeem. The post was manned by both normal and paramilitary police, he added.
Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying members of an anti-Taliban militia in Stanzai village in the Orakzai tribal region, killing seven militiamen, said Naeem. Nine members of the militia were wounded. The militiamen were on their way to a meeting to discuss strategy against the Pakistani Taliban at the time of the attack, said Naeem.
Also Thursday, five suicide bombers attacked a police station in the city of Bannu, wounding one police officer, said the city's police chief, Nisar Tanoli. Three of the bombers detonated their explosives vests, while the police shot dead the other two, he said.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the three attacks. He said the one in Bannu was carried out in retaliation for the killings of eight militants whose bullet-riddled bodies were found abandoned in the neighboring North Waziristan tribal area.
Afzal reported from Parachinar, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Ijaz Mohammad in Bannu, Pakistan, and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.