In their most audacious attack yet, one that was continuing late into Saturday, militants seized a building in Pakistan’s most important power-centre, the military’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, killing six soldiers and holding up to 15 others hostage. A late night television report said the attackers freed eight of the hostages.

The other hostages are being held by an undetermined number of militants in a security office building on the GHQ’s outer perimeter.

Close to midnight, the Pakistan Army, under the direct supervision of Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, appeared to be considering an armed operation to free the hostages, who include both military and civilian personnel.

Major-General Athar Abbas said two militants had managed to sneak into the building during a gun battle with soldiers earlier in the day in which four other militants and six soldiers were killed. Among the soldiers killed were a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel.

The strike at the military headquarters, a powerful symbol of the Pakistan Army’s might, both military and political, where offices of the Army chief and other top brass are located, has severely jolted the military establishment, the government and the country.

The attack, the third by militants this week, came as the government said the Taliban had been weakened by the death of their leader Beithullah Mehsud in a United States missile strike in August, and by the subsequent infighting, and announced that it would take the battle against militancy into the militant headquarters in South Waziristan.

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