The attack focuses international pressure on neighboring Pakistan, where many of the militants are said to be based.
There appears to be little consensus over meeting multifaceted challenges that are driven by varying agendas.
Marking the anniversary of a government operation against the radical Red Mosque, the attack suggests some militants are growing bolder.
Record U.S. fatalities there last month highlight the need for more troops, but reserves are few.
In a switch from its efforts to negotiate, the three-month-old government launched an offensive in the North West Frontier Province amid a growing threat to a major city.