The assault in Buner district is likely to heighten concern about the viability of a government-backed peace deal that imposes Islamic law, Shariah, in a large segment of the country's northwest in exchange for peace with Taliban in the Swat Valley.
In recent days, the valley's militants have entered Buner in large numbers - establishing checkpoints, patrolling roads and spreading fear in an area some 60 miles from Islamabad. Their movement has bolstered critics' claims that the deal would merely embolden the militants to spread their reign to other parts of the province bordering Afghanistan.
The U.S. has become one of the deal's foremost critics. "I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers in a hearing Wednesday in Washington. Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistan Army's chief spokesman, said the situation in Buner was not as dire as some have portrayed - saying militants were in control of less than 25 percent of the district, mostly its north.