Suicide bombers targeting the Pakistani military killed at least 45 people in Lahore on Friday, officials said, in a challenge to government assertions that crackdowns have weakened Taliban insurgents.

Two suicide bombers attacked within the span of 15 to 20 seconds and they were on foot, provincial police chief Tariq Saleem Dogar told reporters.

Those killed in the attack, the bloodiest this year, in a military neighborhood of the city near the border with India included nine soldiers, military officials said. Almost 100 people were wounded.

Pakistani authorities have said security crackdowns have weakened al Qaeda-linked Taliban militants fighting to topple the U.S.-backed government.

But the Taliban have renewed pressure on unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari, who faces calls from opponents to hand over his strongest powers to the prime minister.

If that does not happen, Pakistan could face new political turmoil while being pressed to defeat the Taliban.

There have been five blasts this week alone, including a car bomb suicide attack on a police intelligence building in Lahore on Monday that killed 13 people, and a shooting and bombing at a U.S.-based aid agency that killed 6 in the northwest.


Kamran Bokhari, South Asia director at the STRATFOR global intelligence firm, said the blasts were not as sophisticated as others. He expected a new Taliban push.

This new wave was expected as they are under pressure to demonstrate that, despite the several hits they have taken, they continue to sustain operational capability, he said.

Apart from facing a stubborn insurgency at home, Pakistan is also under heavy American pressure to open a new front and go after Afghan Taliban militants in border sanctuaries, a move that would tax its stretched military.

While Taliban bases have been smashed in government offensives in militant strongholds such as South Waziristan, fighters have a history of melting away to rugged areas which are hard for the military to penetrate.

The militant network is not substantially or reasonably damaged and they are still capable of striking, said analyst Khadim Hussain.

A Reuters photographer said soldiers cordoned off the site of Friday's blasts and were not allowing anyone to approach. Troops were deployed on rooftops and an army helicopter flew overhead.

Rescue workers with stretchers rushed toward the blast site.

Police official Mohammad Shafiq told reporters the heads of both attackers had been found. Suicide bombers often strap explosives to their bodies and the blasts take off their heads.

Pakistani markets have mostly shrugged off violence, which has spread from militant strongholds in the northwest near the Afghan border to major cities.

The market temporarily dipped after the Lahore attacks, before Pakistani stocks ended on a more than 18-month high on foreign buying on Friday, passing through the 10,000-point level. The Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark 100-share index rose 146.29 points, or 1.48 percent, to end at 10,025.99.