PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - As many as 18 people were killed and 14 others injured in three US drone attacks in North Waziristan Agency on Friday, marking a sharp escalation of the controversial CIA-led campaign that continues to roil Pak-US relations.

The strikes came just a day after Islamabad summoned a senior US diplomat to protest over drone attacks, calling them “unlawful”.

Official sources said that at least 10 missiles were fired in the three back to back attacks – all in the Shawal valley, close to Afghan border. Friday was the fifth day of strikes in North Waziristan this month, four of which targeted the Shawal Valley.

The sources said that two mud-walled compounds and two vehicles were targeted. They said that identity of those hit in the strikes was unknown yet, but they were believed to be belonging to Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s militant group.

The sources said that the drone attacks were carried out after 11am. In the first attack, US drone fired three missiles at a compound at Makki Qamar and killed six suspected militants.

In the second strike, a drone fired two missiles at another compound at Tonda Darra, killing four people. Both the targeted compounds were destroyed completely.

In the third attack, five missiles were fired on two vehicles in Lawara Panga Daray Nishtar locality, killing eight suspected militants. The said locality is situated near North Waziristan’s border with South Waziristan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan said on Friday that it was in contact with the US to get the ‘illegal’ US drone attacks stopped and considering various options in this regard.

Just a day before Islamabad had formally protested with Washington asking it to stop violating its integrity and sovereignty. But apparently that call fell on deaf ears as three CIA-led missile strikes killed 18 people in North Waziristan the very next day (Friday).

During his weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesman Muazzam Khan said that Pakistan was in contact with the US to find mutually acceptable solution. He said Pakistan “is positive and very clear that drone attacks are unproductive, illegal and violation of our sovereignty and integrity as well as in contravention of the international law”.

The spokesman told reporters that they had other options as well that could not be revealed now but efforts were being made to resolve the issue on the bilateral level. He said they were engaging the US leadership at various levels on this issue and were working on various proposals. He also confirmed that Pak-US strategic dialogue would take place this year. Asked do Pakistan and the United States have any tacit understanding on drones, the spokesman stated that Pakistan has nothing to do with their operation.

Three separate drone strikes in North Waziristan on Friday claimed eighteen lives. The number of drone strikes in the agency has risen drastically over the last few months. On Thursday, a top US diplomat had been summoned to the Foreign Office and a protest was lodged over the drone attacks.

The spokesman said that Afghanistan is a vast country and has many neighbours and Pakistan has no involvement in the attacks inside Afghanistan. “Nobody will be allowed to use Pakistani land against any country,” he vowed. He reiterated that peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s national interest.

About the border incursions by the militants and attack on Pakistan posts near Afghan border, the spokesman asked the Afghan government to do something to stop them. He said both the countries have been engaging each other meaningfully on all issues of mutual interest and concern.

“As you know, recently Prime Minister Ashraf had a very productive visit to Kabul. Similarly, President Zardari had a very good meeting with President Karzai in Saudi Arabia. So, I think there is a desire on both sides to resolve all the issues in an amicable and mutually acceptable manner”, he added.

Answering a question on an Indian media report that Pakistan had explicitly threatened India of using nuclear weapons, the spokesman said “Pakistan is a very responsible nuclear state. We know what it means when it comes to talk about these things”.

He also rejected Indian allegations that Pakistan was behind the hate messaging. “We totally reject such insinuations and we find them totally baseless and unfounded. We have asked them that if they have any credible information, they are most welcome to share it with us. We will definitely look into it”, he added.

When pointed out that many Pakistanis who went to perform Umrah were imprisoned, the spokesman said Pakistan was in contact with Saudi government to sort out the issue and soon a meeting would be held in this regard.

When his attention was drawn towards Richard Miniter’s book accusing ISI of being on board with US government on conducting operation to kill Osma bin Laden, the spokesman said that such reports and such anecdotal description do not really warrant an official response on our part, adding that it will be too early to respond to that question or comment on that book.

Referring to former Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani’s comments for downgrading Pak-US relationship, he said it was his personnel point of view but the government of Pakistan’s stance was different.