TTP terrorists have continued principally to attack unarmed civilians across the District, though some attacks have also targeted the Security Forces (SFs).
On September 29, 2013, a car bomb killed at least 42 people and injured another 100 in Kissa Khawani Bazaar (the storytellers' market) of Peshawar. A splinter group of the TTP [unspecified] claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying the attack was in response to United States (US) drone strikes in tribal areas. However, TTP 'spokesman' Shahidullah Shahid condemned the attack saying, "We are targeting the Government machinery and the law enforcement agencies but not general public."
In another targeted attack on September 27, 2013, the terrorists killed at least 19 persons and injured another 42 in a bomb explosion on a bus carrying employees of the Civil Secretariat at the Gulbela area on Charsadda Road in Peshawar. "This time, the targets of the attack were Government employees", the Commissioner of Peshawar, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, confirmed.
In the most gruesome attack on civilians in Peshawar so far, as many as 81 persons were killed and another 145 were injured, when two suicide attackers blew themselves up at the All Saints Church targeting the Christian community on September 22, 2013.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) out of 850 persons killed in KP in 2013, nearly 42.35 per cent (360 persons, including 282 civilians, 61 SF personnel and 17 terrorists) have been killed in Peshawar alone [all data till October 6, 2013]. In comparison, Peshawar had witnessed 181 killings, including 134 civilians, 31 SFs and 19 terrorists, in the corresponding period of 2012, out of a total of 510 killings, including 277 civilians, 65 SFs and 168 terrorists in the whole of KP, accounting for 36 per cent of the total. Indeed, Peshawar has accounted for a continuously increasing proportion of the killings in the Province since 2007.
Peshawar has clearly emerged as the principal target of terror in volatile KP. It is no mere coincidence that the violence has peaked since the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Government under Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, assumed office on June 1, 2013. While Peshawar witnessed 222 fatalities in the first four months after PTI's coming to power (391 in the whole of KP), the previous four months saw 122 fatalities in Peshawar (and 366 in KP), indicating a sharp increase of 54.95 per cent since PTI's accession to power.
Rising trends of terrorism in Peshawar, and in KP, are unsurprising given the soft policy of the incumbent provincial Government. Indeed, on October 1, 2013, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the Federal Government to begin 'dialogue' with the TTP for 'peace without delay'. The resolution stated: "The Federal Government should start process of dialogue under the guidelines of the All Parties Conference to restore peace in the country including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa." PTI Chairperson Imran Khan, on September 25, 2013, proposed that TTP be allowed to open a 'political' office in the country in order to carry peace talks forward. Khan, who is considered soft on TTP, asked the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led Federal Government to "allow the terrorists to open an office in Pakistan similar to the one set up by the Afghan Taliban in Qatar to facilitate dialogue." Khan's demand to provide political legitimacy to TTP could further embolden the terrorists, eventually increasing their hold over and influence within Pakistan.
The 'imminent' peace process in Pakistan has also gained enormous oratory momentum. As the hullaballoo about peace talks between the Government and terrorist 'stakeholders' increased, Deobandi Ulema have been drawn in to mediate between the two. Though supported by all quarters of the establishment, however, the prospects of a real peace are slim. Nevertheless, Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on October 4, 2013, termed the process of peace talks with the TTP "very crucial", asserting that things were moving in the 'right direction', though he remained silent on the TTP's demand to stop US drone strikes in the tribal areas. TTP 'spokesperson' Shahidullah Shahid October 2, 2013, reiterated, "A cease-fire alone is not sufficient. The stoppage of drone strikes is essential; otherwise, if drones continue to strike, we will not accept the cease-fire." Earlier, the TTP had demanded a Government cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas.
Meanwhile, struggling with the reality of ever-increasing violence, the KP Government devised a counter-terror strategy to ward off threats in the provincial capital, soon after the September 29 attack. Secretary Interior Akthar Ali Shah, after a high-level security meeting, disclosed that two Special Task Forces (STFs) would be set up for the city to maintain peace and counter terrorist threats. Two Committees are also to be constituted to devise short and long-term measures to counter terrorism. Of these, one would be headed by the Commissioner and the other would be under the Inspector-General (IG) of Police. Referring to these proposals as "an effective strategy on the cards", Shah added that Peshawar would be divided into four zones and targeted operations would be carried out in sensitive areas. The emphasis of these targeted operations would be on bus stands, hotels and private inns, which would be thoroughly searched. He said that a ready-to-move quick response force would be present in each zone along with the Police. He further stated that intelligence sharing and gathering would be improved and that public mobilization would also be increased.
Earlier, in August 2013, the Federal Ministry of Interior, disclosed its National Counter Terrorism and Extremism Policy - 2013, focusing on five elements: dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and re-integrate. It is, however, clear that the Federal Government is not contemplating any startling changes in the execution of its counter terror policies, given Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's outlook orientation towards the Islamist extremists. Indeed, after representing Pakistan at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and holding bilateral meetings with various countries, including India, Sharif alleged that "external forces" were to blame for Pakistan's internal disturbances. On September 29, 2013, he asserted that external forces were involved in the terrorism campaign inside Pakistan and that, far from being a sponsor, Pakistan was actually a 'victim' of a foreign-funded, well-organised wave of terrorism. His reluctance to condemn and act against the TTP and other affiliates is another clear demonstration that Pakistan remains a victim of its own conspiracy theories and continues to ignore the reality of home-grown terrorism and the pernicious role of its own state agencies in creating the terrorist organisations that have turned against it, among a large array of those that continue to serve the state's perceived interests.
Peshawar has become the extremist bastion of KP, and the Nawaz Sharif Government will continue to remain paralysed unless it confronts the realities of the role of state and society in creating and sustaining Islamist extremism and terrorism. Indeed, the situation can only worsen with efforts by Imran Khan and others to cede legitimacy and political influence to the terrorists.
(The writer Ambreen Agha is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)
--IBNS (Posted on 08-10-2013)