ISLAMABAD — A double Taliban suicide attack that killed 66 paramilitary police recruits represented the deadliest terrorist strike in Pakistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden. It sent a strong signal that militants mean to fight on and to try to avenge the al-Qaida leader.
Friday's attack came as the Pakistani and Afghan wings of the Taliban have been carrying out attacks to prove they remain a potent force and bolster their profiles in case peace talks prevail in Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan officials have said they hope the Afghan Taliban will use bin Laden's death as an opportunity to break their link with al-Qaida — an alliance the U.S. says must be severed if the insurgents want peace in Afghanistan. But Afghan officials and Pakistani experts say any severing of ties would not happen anytime soon, if at all.
"The Taliban want to prove that bin Laden's killing did not really affect them," said Rahimullah Yusafzai, a Taliban expert in Peshawar, Pakistan, who has interviewed their reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
"I don't think anybody is talking peace at this stage," Yusafzai said. "Everybody is wanting to score something on the ground. I think the spring fighting, the summer fighting will continue and it will be worse than last year."
In claiming responsibility for Friday's attack in northwest Pakistan, which also wounded about 120 people, the Taliban said it was avenging the May 2 death of bin Laden. It cited anger at Pakistan's military for failing to stop the U.S. raid on bin Laden's hideaway.
"The Pakistani army has failed to protect its land," said Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban.
In their communications, militants often try to tap into popular sentiments in Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is often stronger than fears of Islamist militants. This is despite militant attacks over the last four years claiming the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.
In Afghanistan, where bin Laden's death has coincided with the beginning of the spring fighting season, the Taliban have launched a series of attacks including a two-day battle in the insurgents' stronghold of Kandahar in the south.