Source: New York Times – with minor edits and additional information
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (27 July 2013) — Groups of Taliban fighters are spilling out of the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan into the region’s largest city, Peshawar, where they are increasingly showing their presence through a campaign of intimidation and violence, according to residents, the police and city officials.
There are increased attacks on anti-Taliban Sunnis and Shia Muslims across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, particularly in areas of Peshawar, Hangu, Kohat and road to Kurram Agency. Taliban’s influence and violence has particularly increased in Peshawar, where Deobandi militants (comprising Taliban and banned terrorist outfit Sipah Sahaba aka ASWJ) have stepped up attacks aimed at the police, extortion demands, sectarian killings of Shia and moderate Sunni Muslims, and kidnappings. Deobandis are a local semi-Wahhabi sub-sect in Pakistan, Afghanist and India, much aligned to Saudi Wahhabi/Salafi ideology of Jihadist and sectarian violence.
For all that, the Deobandi militants do not pose an immediate threat to the overall control of the city, and the police say they have foiled many potential attacks. But the increased Taliban presence does signal a further advance for the militants, who have also become a more muscular presence this year in Karachi, the country’s most populous city.
Their strength has also bolstered a broader wave of sectarian violence in the northwest. On Saturday, the toll from a double bomb attack conducted on Friday (26 July 2013) against minority Shiites Muslims in Parachinar, a tribal town west of Peshawar, climbed to 57 dead and at least 167 wounded, the authorities said. According to local sources, upto 75 Shias were killed in twin suicide attacks by Deobandi militants. Taliban-affiliated Deobandi groups have been responsible for previous anti-Shia sectarian cleansing in the same area for last many years.
Deobandi militants have attacked inside Peshawar, a city of an estimated four million people, once a day, on average, for the past five months, according to provincial government statistics. That accounts for about half of the militant episodes across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“It’s like Ricky Ponting playing cricket,” said a senior security official in Peshawar, referring to a former Australian cricketer known for his prolific scoring ability, and speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.
According to Pakistan army sources, the violence is partly a product of military success. The Pakistani Army has been battling Taliban militants in the mountains of the adjoining Khyber tribal district in recent months. A smaller security operation is under way in Darra Adam Khel, a district southwest of the city that is famed for its gunsmiths. However, Pakistan army is also notorious for its ambivalent policy on sponosoring and protecting at least some sections of Deobandi militants.
However, the situation of law and order is far from perfect in the suburbs of Peshawar, where nervous residents have reported sightings of Deobandi militants of banned terrorist outfit Sipah Sahaba (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, ASWJ) and Taliban who travel around on motorcycles, frequent restaurants late at night and preach in local mosques.
Abdul Haleem, a building contractor, said he received a surprise lecture on violence during morning prayers at his local mosque recently. “A man stood up and, without the permission of the imam, started preaching about the importance of jihad and its rewards in the hereafter,” Mr. Haleem said during an interview at his house in Hayatabad, the city’s wealthiest suburb. “Later we found out that he was a Deobandi militant commander from Khyber,” he said.
Several police officers, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, blamed the ambivalent attitude of the newly elected provincial government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, a former cricket star, for declining morale. Mr. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party favors talks with the Taliban over fighting, and his officials frequently frame militant violence as a reaction to American drone strikes in the tribal belt. “What we need is a pat on the back, not daily derision,” one senior official said. “If Khan says this is not our war, then what does he think we are doing here sacrificing our lives?”
Murad Saeed, a member of Parliament from Mr. Khan’s party, rejected accusations that his party was soft on Deobandi militancy. “We only say that the use of force has been futile against militancy, and now we should give a chance to a political solution,” Mr. Saeed said in a telephone interview. He said Pakistan’s government first needed to address “the factors that spur our own people to carry out violent acts.”
Some of the violence in Peshawar this year has targeted members of the Shiite Muslim minority, and doctors in particular. In January, Dr. Shah Nawaz Ali, an eye specialist at Lady Reading Hospital, was shot dead outside his clinic, and another doctor in Peshawar, Dr. Riaz Hussain Shah, a gastroenterologist, was killed. Also in 2013, a leading lawyer and human rights activists Malik Jarrar was killed in Peshawar.
In January 2013, a suicide bomb attack by Deobandi militants on a Shia Muslim mosque in Peshawar killed at least 14 people. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22999668
The Deobandi militan group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (currenlty operating as ASWJ) has claimed credit for numerous terror attacks in Pakistan, and has often targeted Shiites. The terror group has released videos of executions of captured Shia prisoners.
On June 18, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a funeral in Mardan in northwestern Pakistan. A member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly was among 35 people killed in the deadly blast.
Situation of non-Muslim minorities is not much different. In July 2913, President of Pakistan Christian Congress Dr. Nazir S Bhatti strongly condemned a statemebt by the PTI’s Chief Minister that only sanitary workers jobs wil be given to religious minorities in KPK province. https://lubpak.net/archives/272741
Wealthy businessmen have faced extortion demands. The owner of a truck transport company living in Hayatabad said a militant demand for about $100,000 came to him in the form of a letter thrown at his doorstep. The next day a Taliban commander phoned him. “He warned me not to inform the police,” said the businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons. “I have no option but to meet their demand.”
The provincial police chief, Ihsan Ghani, acknowledged that the situation was grave, but he insisted that it was under control. “There is a clear and present danger,” Mr. Ghani said in an interview. But, he added, police intelligence had quietly disrupted several terrorist plots, and the authorities had arrested many militants.
The turmoil comes against the backdrop of a broader political stasis in Pakistan. The prospect of peace talks with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan has evoked mixed reactions among Pakistani politicians. It may be noted that Taliban in Pakistan’s settled, urban areas freely operate under the banner of Deobandi sectarian group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), new name for banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi / Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Some, like Mr. Imran Khan, view such talks as a necessary first step out of a violent regional quagmire, a move that would at once bring peace to Afghanistan and remove the justification that spurs Pakistan’s militants.
But others view the notion of talks with apprehension, fearing that they would only give the Taliban time to conquer ground that would eventually have to be won back through painful military operations, as the army did in the Swat Valley in 2009. “We have yet to decide who is our real enemy, and the Taliban are taking advantage of this confusion,” said Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party, which governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa until the last election, when it won just one seat.
Some Pakistani officials worry that the American withdrawal in Afghanistan in 2014 will embolden Pakistan’s Taliban and affiliated Deobandi terrorist groups. A recent strategic assessment by the province’s Home and Tribal Affairs Department, a copy of which has been obtained by The New York Times, warns that it is a “fallacy” to assume that the American departure from Afghanistan will end violence in Pakistan. Instead, the document warns, Pakistan’s Taliban could use the perceived victory in Afghanistan to install “their own brand of Islam” in Pakistan.
“Our political leadership is confused when it comes to the Taliban,” said one senior police officer in Peshawar. “And that is undermining police morale and hindering us in our job.”