Peshawar attack is Pakistan’s wakeup call: Take on the militants with full state power
Peshawar has bled many times in the past but the latest suicide bombing inside a mosque that killed more than 100 worshippers was one of the bloodiest. Terror struck the city after years of relative calm with devastating effects. The deadly attack in a high security zone sent a grim reminder of the increasing security threat posed by resurgent violent militancy. The gruesome incident has also laid bare the lack of an effective and coherent counterterrorism strategy to deal with the existential threat.
It happened inside the headquarters of the capital police that also houses half a dozen offices of other security agencies. Many of those killed and wounded were security personnel. The devastation demonstrated the increasing capacity of the militant group to launch such high-profile attacks.
The very fact that the bomber laden with explosives managed to get into a high security zone has exposed the failure of our entire security apparatus. The security breach is more shocking as the city has already been on high alert with the rise of terrorist attacks in recent months particularly targeting security installations.
Most of these attacks have been claimed by the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Scores of policemen have been killed in the target attacks that have swept Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province (KP) of which Peshawar is the capital. It is apparent that the mosque attack could not have been possible without a strong support network. There have also been reports of the possible involvement of insiders.
A faction of the outlawed TTP with links to the Daesh Khorasan chapter has claimed responsibility for the attack. The nexus between the two transnational militant groups has been responsible for many spectacular terror attacks in KP and other parts of the country.
It’s mainly Pakistan’s policy of appeasement that has allowed the globally declared terror group to regain space in the country.
Militant groups have now regrouped and appear better equipped with the help of their patrons on the other side of the border. The return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan has certainly given a boost to violent militancy here. After fleeing the military operations in the former tribal regions, most TTP leaders and fighters had taken refuge in Afghanistan with the support of Afghan Taliban.
Not surprisingly, there has been a massive escalation in terror attacks by the TTP in KP and former tribal districts of North and South Waziristan. Despite its commitment to the international community not to allow Afghan soil to be used for terror activities, the Taliban regime has refused to take action against the TTP.
But it’s mainly Pakistan’s policy of appeasement that has allowed the globally declared terror group to regain space in the country. Under pressure from the Afghan Taliban regime, Pakistan started peace negotiations with the TTP that have been responsible for the killing of thousands of Pakistani civilians and military personnel.
Despite widespread protest, Pakistani civil and military leadership allowed thousands of armed TTP fighters to return to their homes in the former tribal districts. They also agreed to a truce that provided an opportunity to the militant group to reestablish their bases. The militants not only refused to lay down their arms, but continued to attack Pakistani security forces.
Predictably, the tentative ceasefire did not last long. Calling off the truce late last year, the TTP unleashed a wave of terror attacks in KP and other parts of the country. There has been a marked increase in targeted killings, suicide bombings and other forms of attacks on security installations since then. What’s more worrisome is that the militants have extended their actions to other parts of the country.
In the past three months, the outlawed terror group has claimed more than 150 attacks in KP alone. The militants also seem to have taken advantage of the worsening political instability and deteriorating economic situation that has pushed the country close to anarchy to intensify their attacks. The civilian law-enforcement agencies in KP seem to have collapsed in the face of the militant assault.
In this situation, the latest Peshawar attack has not come as a surprise. One of the deadliest terror attacks in recent years has shaken the country. It raises serious questions about the state of our preparedness to deal with the renewed terrorist threat.
The policy of appeasement has taken a huge toll, in the lives of civilians as well as security personnel. The wave of protests in KP in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack is a wake-up call for our civil and military leadership. The people are angry over the capitulation of the state to the terrorists.
More importantly, the country needs to formulate a coherent counter-terrorism strategy to deal with the menace that presents the biggest threat to the country’s national security. It’s time to end the policy of appeasement and take on the terrorists with full power of state.
- Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson Centre and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with Militant Islam and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan. Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. His latest book ‘No-Win War’ was published this year. Twitter: @hidhussain