Schoolboy suicide bomber kills 20 young army recruits
BLAST: Boy wore school uniform in attack
A boy in a school uniform blew himself up at a Pakistani army recruitment centre, killing 20 cadets, in an attack that challenges government assertions that crackdowns have weakened militants.
Pakistan's army has carried out a series of offensives against al-Qa'ida-linked Taliban insurgents.
But the operations in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border have failed to break the resolve of Taliban fighters determined to destabilise the US-backed government.
The brazen bombing in the northwestern town of Mardan suggested militants are regrouping after a lull in major attacks.
Militant operations in recent months have been mostly sectarian and have not focused on military targets.
"The bomber struck recruits when cadets were busy in their morning training," a military official said. At least 20 people were wounded.
The teen boy apparently walked into the compound, officials said. "It seems the Taliban are still a very potent force because they continue to attack installations, even if they have been quiet for a time," said former general Talat Masood.
"They reassert themselves after a while, and it will be a while before we consider them to be less of a threat."
The Taliban have previously launched bold attacks on the military, Pakistan's most powerful institution. Last March, two suicide bombers targeting the Pakistani military killed at least 45 people in the city of Lahore, including nine soldiers.
In 2009, Pakistani Taliban militants disguised as soldiers attacked the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi and later took 42 people hostage in a nearby office building.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack at the Punjab Regiment Centre.
"Such cowardly attacks cannot affect the morale of the security agencies and the resolve of the nation to eradicate terrorism," he said.
Gilani's government faces pressure on several fronts. It is trying to revive a stagnant economy propped up by an $11bn IMF loan which requires politically sensitive reforms.
Public discontent is growing over official corruption, rampant poverty and power cuts.
Washington is pressuring Pakistan to intensify its fight against both domestic militant groups and ones that cross the long, porous border to attack Western forces in Afghanistan.
Tensions between the allies are running high over the case of Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistanis in late January.
Davis is a diplomat who acted in self-defence when he shot two men in the middle of a busy Lahore street on January 27. He enjoys diplomatic immunity and should be released according to international law.