ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A suicide bomber hit a car carrying the army's surgeon general along a busy road in Rawalpindi on Monday, killing him along with at least seven other people, the army said.
Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Ahmed Baig appears to be the highest-ranking military official to have died in an attack since President Pervez Musharraf sided with the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The blast was the latest in a series of attacks in Rawalpindi, a city just south of the capital where the military has its headquarters, and it is likely to revive concern about Islamic militancy in Pakistan just days after moderates won parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Musharraf's spokesman dismissed suggestions from three U.S. senators that the embattled Pakistani leader make a "graceful" retreat from power after his opponents' election victory.
Musharraf was elected to a new five-year presidential term last year by Pakistani lawmakers, "not by any senator from the United States," his spokesman Rashid Qureshi told Dawn News television. "So I don't think he needs to respond to anything that is said by these people."
Baig, his driver and his guard were killed along with five civilians in Monday's blast, the army said in a statement. Musharraf himself survived at least three attempts on his life before he retired as army chief in November.
City police chief Saud Aziz told reporters at the scene that a black car whose roof was ripped off by the blast and dumped on the grassy median belonged to the army.
Dozens of troops and plainclothes security officials cordoned off the area, where at least six other cars lay damaged. Plastic-gloved investigators gingerly gathered debris, including pieces of flesh, and put them in plastic bags.
Iqbal Ali, who had been walking toward a nearby government office to get an identity card, said he saw a man run into the road shortly before the explosion.
Suicide bombers have struck repeatedly in Rawalpindi in recent months, mostly targeting security forces. A gun and suicide bomb attack also killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in the city on Dec. 27.
Bhutto's party finished first in last Monday's parliamentary elections, while supporters of Musharraf were trounced. However, all major political leaders have said they are committed to fighting extremism.
Several U.S. senators met Musharraf after last week's parliamentary vote in which his political allies were routed. Some Pakistani leaders and many media commentators have called for him to resign.
The Bush administration appears to want Musharraf to continue in office.
However, Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that he would advise Musharraf to seek a dignified way to leave office.
"I firmly believe if they (political parties) do not focus on old grudges and there's plenty in Pakistan and give him a graceful way to move," then it could happen, Biden, a Democrat, said on ABC television.
Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Chuck Hagel also endorsed a negotiated retreat. They stopped short of saying he should be pushed from power.
The parties of Bhutto and another former premier, Nawaz Sharif are expected to form a coalition government.
However, they fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach Musharraf, whose popularity plummeted last year after he declared a state of emergency and clamped down on the opposition, the judiciary and the media.
Western officials are concerned that an attempt to force Musharraf from power would spark a constitutional crisis and hobble Pakistan's effort to fight growing Islamic extremism.
Taliban-style militants battling government forces near the Afghan border said Sunday say they want dialogue with the winners of the elections and urged the new leadership to abandon the war on terror.