Pakistan - Pakistani helicopter gunships attacked Taliban bases near the Afghan border on Wednesday as the army urged NATO forces to seal the frontier to stem cross-border movement of militants.

Pakistani forces launched an offensive to wrest control of the lawless South Waziristan region on Saturday after militants rocked the country with a string of bomb and suicide attacks, killing more than 150 people.

Six people were killed in two suicide bomb attacks at the International Islamic University in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday, prompting authorities to order the closure of educational institutions across the country.

Pakistani stocks closed lower with dealers saying the market was worried violence might worsen.

The tense law and order situation as evidenced by the closure of schools throughout the country has truly spooked stock market investors, said Asad Iqbal, managing director at Ismail Iqbal Securities Ltd.

Remote and rugged South Waziristan, with its rocky mountains and patchy forests cut through by dry creeks and ravines, is a global hub for militants.

The offensive is being closely followed by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.

The government forces initially faced light resistance but fighting has intensified as soldiers approach the militants' main sanctuaries in the mountains.

Government forces attacked the militant strongholds of Makeen and Ladha with helicopter gunships and artillery on Wednesday, security officials said.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Taliban commander known as the mentor of suicide bombers, called the BBC on Tuesday to take responsibility for the attacks on the Islamic University and said the militants consider all of Pakistan to now be a war zone.

The army reported fierce fighting for the control of Kotkai, Hussain's hometown and also the birthplace of Pakistani Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsud.

Security forces briefly took control of Kotkai in fighting on Monday night but militants recaptured it in a counter-attack.

(For a graphic showing the whereabouts of fighting, see here)


Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani chaired a cabinet meet and vowed the government was more resolute to eradicate militancy from the country.

So far Pakistan's media and public seem behind the offensive, but attitudes could change if Taliban attacks on urban targets are stepped up.
The News daily splashed the university attack across the front page with the headline Godless kill in God's name

Gilani also assured the nation and the international community that Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure was safe and these terrorists pose no threat to its safety.

As government forces pressed ahead with the Waziristan offensive, the military called on the NATO troops in Afghanistan to seal the border to prevent cross-border movement and flow of weapons.

Pakistan Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) Chairman General Tariq Majid made the call during talks with Britain's Chief of Defense Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup.

Pakistani newspapers have in recent days reported that NATO forces had abandoned border posts opposite South Waziristan, raising the possibility of Afghan Taliban coming to help their Pakistani comrades, or of Pakistani Taliban fleeing.

Majid called for synchronization of effort on both sides and sharing of real-time intelligence with reference to the ongoing operations, an army statement issued late on Tuesday said.

The army says 115 militants and 16 soldiers have been killed since the offensive was launched on Saturday but there was no independent confirmation of those tolls.

Foreign reporters are not allowed anywhere near the battle zone and it is dangerous for Pakistani reporters to visit. Many of the Pakistani media based in South Waziristan have left.

About 28,000 soldiers are battling an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban, including about 1,000 tough Uzbek fighters and some Arab al Qaeda members.

More than 100,000 civilians have fled from South Waziristan, with about 32,000 of them leaving since October 13, the United Nations said. Up to 200,000 people could flee, the army says.

The army has launched brief offensives in South Waziristan before, the first in 2004 when it suffered heavy casualties before striking a peace pact.

The Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark 100-share index fell 3.36 percent, or 321.28 points, to 9,247.78 on turnover of 177.5 million shares. The KSE-index ended at 9,223.39 points on September 17.

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) (Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)