Pakistan - A suicide bomber killed three people outside a popular media club on Tuesday in Peshawar, officials said, a key northwestern Pakistan town that has become the epicentre of Islamabad's battle against militants.

Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province, has been hit by numerous bomb attacks since the army went on the offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border in October.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the attacks since the offensive began. Another 17 were wounded in Tuesday's bombing outside the Peshawar Press Club.

It was a suicide attack. The bomber wanted to get into the Press Club and, when our police guard stopped him, he blew himself up, city police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told Reuters.

Two policemen and a passer-by were killed, a Peshawar city official said. At least one of the dead lay near a gate into the red-brick club, television pictures showed, and broken glass littered the ground after the blast smashed the club's windows.

Peshawar is the gateway to the Khyber Pass and an ancient trading crossroad between South Asia's plains and the mountains of Afghanistan. It is a key battleground both for Pakistan and its ally Washington, which wants to make sure local political don't distract Islamabad from the wider fight against militancy.

While the Pakistan army fights militants in the northwest and the police struggle to stop bomb attacks in towns and cities, the government has been preoccupied with rising political tension.

President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has faced calls to step down since the Supreme Court last week threw out an amnesty that protected him from corruption charges. It had also covered several of his aides, government ministers and thousands of others.

The unpopular Zardari, who is close to the United States, has stood firm, he and his party saying no ministers would quit in the face of a witch-hunt.
While Zardari is protected from prosecution by his presidential immunity, he is expected to face legal challenges to his 2008 election as president on the grounds that he was ineligible because of the charges hanging over him.


The amnesty was introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007 as part of a power-sharing deal with Bhutto brokered with U.S. and British help.

Zardari has been dogged by accusations of graft from the 1990s when Bhutto served two terms as prime minister. He says the charges were politically motivated and denies any wrongdoing.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik was also protected by the now-scrapped amnesty and he too is facing corruption charges. He told reporters on Tuesday he would prove his innocence.

He also said the Pakistani Taliban were being defeated.

I can tell you with full confidence that we have broken the militants' back and we'll eliminate them, Malik said.

The political tension comes as the United States has intensified pressure on its nuclear-armed ally to clear out Afghan Taliban along the border, from where they launch attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

But Pakistan says it cannot open too many fronts at the same time and it will decide on the timing of any offensive.
While battling homegrown Taliban, Islamabad is seen as reluctant to antagonise Afghan militants who do not attack in Pakistan and who provide it with leverage against old rival India's influence in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have raised the possibility of more attacks on militants in Pakistan by missile-firing U.S. drone aircraft if Pakistan does not go after the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil.

The disagreement is putting a strain on ties. U.S. officials said last week Pakistan was delaying hundreds of visas for U.S. officials and contractors.

Peshawar reporters said militants had threatened to attack journalists since the South Waziristan assault began.

Reporters have been attacked and killed in ethnic Pashtun tribal regions along the Afghan border but Tuesday's blast was the first on a reporters' club in a city.

It's an act of terrorism. We've received threats so many times since the (South Waziristan) operation started, said president of the Peshawar Press Club, Shamim Shahid.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait)