Thursday, September 26, 2013

Peshawar, and the battle for Pakistan

 context of Peshawar Church Massacre

The Sunday 22 Sept 2013 terrorist attack at All Saint's Church, Peshawar, came as the government was reportedly preparing to broker peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP: the Pakistani Taliban).

Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party won Pakistan's May 2013 parliamentary elections on a platform that included brokering peace with the TTP.

At an All Parties Conference (APC) in Karachi on 9 September -- in which the US-led "War on Terror" and US drone attacks were blamed Pakistan's domestic terrorism -- PM Sharif won approval from the leaders of Pakistan's political parties to proceed with talks.

Emboldened by the scent of weakness, the TTP upped the ante.

On 14 September, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud issued two conditions for talks: the release of 50 jailed militant commanders, and the complete withdrawal and all 150,000 Pakistani military troops from the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as North West Frontier Province).

The very next day (15 Sept) the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Imran Khan -- who has long advocated for peace with the Taliban -- announced that the withdrawal of troops from Malakand Division would commence in October and that the civil administration would take over control of Swat and other districts accordingly.


Within hours, the TTP responded by assassinating Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Swat and Malakand Division. Killed along with him by a roadside bomb in the Upper Dir district near the Afghan border, were his right hand man, Lieutenant Colonel Tauseef, and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar.


On Sunday 22 September, as up to 600 worshippers were mingling at the close of the service, two Islamic militants armed with automatic rifles and grenades entered the grounds of All Saint's Church, Peshawar. After slaughtering many, they detonated their explosive vests, triggering two huge explosions that blasted shrapnel through the believers. The death toll, presently 89, continues to rise; more than 150 were wounded, many critically. The internet images are shocking and deeply moving.

Two different wings of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility. A spokesman from TTP Jundullah claimed: 'They [Christians] are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.' Later a spokesman from Junood ul-Hifsa claimed the attack was in response to US drone strikes. This was the most deadly terrorist attack on Pakistan's Christian community in modern history.

See: Taliban suicide attack on Pakistani church leaves dozens dead
Attack on congregation leaving service in Peshawar is most deadly in history of Pakistan's Christian community
By Jon Boone in Islamabad, The Guardian, Mon 23 Sept 2013

"Explosions ripped through the congregation of 500 people, including many women and children, as the service at All Saints church was coming to an end and worshippers were about to receive a free meal of rice in the courtyard outside.

"Witnesses said the interior of the 130-year-old building was turned into a bloodbath, with severed limbs scattered around and the walls pockmarked with ball bearings used as shrapnel by the bombers.

"'I saw myself in the air and then on the ground inside a huge fire of ball,' said Sabir John, a worshipper who lost one of his arms in the blast. . ."

In a short BBC news video a BBC reporter talks with a father as he grieves over the coffin of his 11-year-old daughter. The reporter, listening intently, marvels that, 'somehow he manages to talk of forgiveness'.


On Monday 23 September, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called off plans for peace talks with the TTP. “We had proposed peace talks with the Taliban in good faith but . . . because of this attack, the government is unable to move forward with what it planned and envisaged,” he said.

It has been mooted, however, that PM Nawaz Sharif's appeal for peace talks was a farce designed purely to demonstrate the futility of peace talks. If this is true, then Sharif may have been gambling that talk of peace would actually trigger terrorism, giving him the grounds and political support for a full scale military assault on the tribal regions (primarily for the purpose of self-preservation) and/or appeals for military aid.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has no interest in peace with the Pakistani government, for not only would peace with the government actually be against TTP principles, but the TTP has no reason to broker for peace, for they believe they must and can win the battle. Indeed, as Sameera Rashid demonstrates so clearly, "Taliban militants are not an easy foe to talk to because of their strategic superiority over the law and order apparatus of Pakistan."

Likewise, senior military figures have no interest in peace with the Taliban -- especially if peace involves a military withdrawal and the release of militant prisoners. The Pakistani military has fought long and hard, losing many soldiers in the process, to bring a measure of security to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They are not about to surrender this territory back to the militants.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that Peshawar's Christians were sacrificed -- i.e. the attack may have been permitted (if not set up) by officials in either the military or the government or both -- to legitimise military action and/or requests for military aid.

While appalling, this is not even remotely far-fetched, as those who watch Pakistan and remember the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti will well know. [Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in broad daylight by militants on a motorbike who rode into Islamabad's most secure diplomatic precinct armed with automatic weapons, assassinated the minister in his car, and then escaped without a trace.]

Writing for Gatestone Institute on 25 Sept 2013, Raheel Raza comments: "In Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), considered to be one of the world's largest intelligence agencies, has not contained the violence unleashed upon Pakistan's minorities. According to some recent reports, there is a special squad, financed by petrodollars and sanctioned by the authorities, created exactly for the purpose of killing minorities -- and this is seemingly why nobody to date has been brought to justice. Recently there have also been massive jailbreaks, freeing hundreds of terrorists."

See: The Danger In Our Midst
by Raheel Raza, September 25, 2013

Writing in Asia Times online, Sameera Rashid blames Islamisation. "The Tehrik-i-Taliban (the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and other militants didn't simply sprout out from nowhere. The process of Islamization, introduced ham-fistedly in the Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq era, impacted on the country's education system, legislation and the general moorings of society and gave rise to notion of an exclusivist Sunni Muslim identity."

Rashid notes that sectarian outfits and militant paramilitary organisations, supported by the security establishment to fight proxy wars have joined hands with the Taliban to fulfill their strategic designs. She also notes that Taliban sympathisers exist within the law enforcement agencies and are believed to be responsible for providing militants with maps and other forms of support. She insists the government must stop excusing the militants and blaming the West, and instead, make a serious effort to tackle the domestic causes of terrorism.

See: Delusional reality of Pakistani peace
By Sameera Rashid, 26 Sept 2013

A moving account of the Peshawar attack can be found of Sameera Rashid's blog
Dear Imran Khan, where were you when my church was attacked?
By Sameera Rashid, 24 September 2013


In 2005, the then Prime Minister General Pervez Musharraf brokered peace with an alliance of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban forces by ceding South Waziristan (Feb 2005) and then North Waziristan (Sept 2006). Once free and settled in their sanctuary, the jihadist promptly hoisted the black flag and declared the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.

See Talibanistan: The Establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan
Pakistan's "truce with the Taliban is an abject surrender, and al Qaeda has an untouchable base of operations in Western Pakistan which will only expand if not checked
By Bill Roggio, September 5, 2006


Then mid 2007 saw the stand-off at the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the heart of the capital, Islamabad. On 10 July 2007, Pakistani forces stormed the mosque. Official government sources put the death toll at around 100, while Islamist sources claimed more than 2000 were "martyred". On 16 July 2007 the al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban alliance based in Waziristan announced the termination of the peace deal with the Pakistani government -- and The Battle for Pakistan resumed.

Full details see: The Battle for Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal, 30 Oct 2007

By April 2009, the al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban alliance had advance to within around 100 km (60 miles) of Islamabad (the capital of nuclear-armed Pakistan) and Rawalpindi (military headquarters).

See: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 002
-- 'land-for-peace' brings Islamabad into al-Qaeda-Taliban's sights.
-- a special prayer bulletin for extraordinary times.

By Elizabeth Kendal, Wed 29 Apr 2009

In May 2009, the government launched a military offensive into Swat, liberating Mingora from Taliban control. Mullah Fazlullah, the commander of the Swat chapter of the Pakistani Taliban, fled into Afghanistan.

Since fleeing Swat, Mullah Fazlullah has organised terrorist activities from his base in Kunar and Nurustan areas of Afghanistan, where he reportedly enjoys the hospitality of the Governor of Kunar province. He reportedly controls between 1,000 and 1,500 diehard terrorists, most of who are linked to the Swat chapter of TTP.


Concerning the15 Sept 2013 assassination of Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi in Upper Dir, analyst Bill Roggio notes that Gen. Sanaullah served as the senior military commander in Swat when it was ruled by the Taliban between 2007 and 2009, after the government negotiated multiple peace deals with Taliban commander Mullah Fuzlullah.  Roggio believes the 15 Sept 2013 assassination was "likely carried out by forces loyal to Fazlullah, who also commands Taliban fighters in Dir and in the greater Malakand Division, a region comprising the northern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Fazlullah, who is also known as Mullah Radio for his radical sermons that are broadcast throughout the northwest, is a senior Taliban commander who has opposed polio vaccinations. He has vowed to continue the fight to regain control of Swat and the surrounding districts. Last year, he ordered the assassination of Malala Yousufzai, the young schoolgirl who passionately spoke out against the Taliban in Swat, and accused her of violating sharia, or Islamic law."

Indeed, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has credited the assassination to TTP's Swat chapter, under the command of Mullah Fazlullah. "Our men did it," he said.

According to Awami National Party (ANP) spokesman, Senator Zahid Khan, militants have been returning to Swat and other parts of Malakand division and reinforcing their positions, emboldened by the provincial government's eagerness for "peace", talking advantage of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party's "soft corner" towards militants.


As a senior Western diplomat based in Islamabad notes: "The killing of General Niazi and the Peshawar suicide attack clearly send out a powerful message. The Taliban are saying they don't want peace talks."

In recent weeks, IHS Jane's has been told by both Pakistan's security officials and Western diplomats that the Taliban believe they have an opportunity to enlarge their influence in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan once international coalition troops leave at the end of 2014.

"They [Taliban] are seeing themselves gain victory after victory. Their military strategy right now seems to suggest they see an opportunity to continue their fight and increase their influence," said one Pakistani security official.


During the government's 2009 military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, persecution of Christians soared, particularly in Punjab, as madrassas-educated, thoroughly radicalised Muslims reacted violently against what they perceived as a US-backed war against Islam.

If the government is serious about protecting minorities (as it claims) -- security must be bolstered at all churches and throughout all Christian districts. Any state that regards its Christians as expendable is destined to be impoverished.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)