Peshawar mosque attack confronts Pakistan with tough security choice

Plain-clothed policemen gather over the rubble of a damaged mosque following January's 30 suicide blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on February 1, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2023

Peshawar mosque attack confronts Pakistan with tough security choice

  • Government under pressure to launch all-out offensive against militant groups amid economic, political turmoil
  • January’s suicide bombing at the police mosque in Peshawar was the deadliest terrorist attack in several years

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s perfect storm of crisis — economic turbulence, plunging currency, political polarization and Islamist militancy — has been compounded by last month’s suicide bombing at a mosque in a highly fortified police compound in Peshawar.

The attack — Pakistan’s deadliest in several years — harked back to a period more than 10 years ago when Peshawar, a city near the former tribal areas that borders Afghanistan, was scarred by militant violence and a military counteroffensive.

Authorities in Peshawar believe the Jan. 30 attack was in retaliation for the police force’s role on the front line of Pakistan’s battle with a resurgent insurgency since the Taliban returned to power across the border in Afghanistan.

Family members of a mosque blast victim weep during a protest against the militancy and the suicide blast inside a police headquarters in Peshawar on February 1, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

The suicide bombing was the latest in a string of attacks targeted at security personnel across the country since the militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, called off its cease-fire deal with the Pakistan government in November.

Visiting Peshawar soon after the attack, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said “all resources” would be mobilized to flush out the militants. “This is no less than an attack on Pakistan ...  I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge,” he said in a tweet.

If Sharif’s government decides to match words with resolute action, it would not be lacking in support judging by the public outrage fanned by the high death toll.

“Pakistan needs to come out of the confusion, end appeasement of the militants through peace talks, and go all out against them to achieve permanent peace,” Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani security analyst, told Arab News.

Until Pakistan “separates itself from its romance with violent extremism,” the militants will continue to believe they can seize power, he said.

“We have to crush the militants’ ideological infrastructure and supply chain to break their backbone,” Zaidi said, adding that the government needed to formulate a “decisive strategy” to flush out the terrorists.

The Peshawar attack happened at a time when Pakistan is facing a slew of daunting challenges, with domestic political tensions soaring over a worsening cost-of-living crisis in the run-up to general elections due by October.

This handout picture taken on January 30, 2023 and released by Pakistan's Police Department shows Pakistan's security officials gather to attend funeral prayers for police officers who were killed in a mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

Analysts say political disunity and ideological confusion have provided space for militants to regroup and target the state.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the TTP has distanced itself from the Peshawar bombing, claiming it does not target mosques. Police are investigating whether the attack was the handiwork of an on-off TTP affiliate, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.

Although separate, the Pakistani Taliban, established in 2007, is allied with the Afghan Taliban, which returned to power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 when US and NATO forces concluded their 20-year occupation of the country.

Several militant groups, including the TTP, began operating in Pakistan’s former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, shortly after the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in response to the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

During that time, the militants unleashed a wave of terror in FATA, killing soldiers, murdering outspoken politicians and celebrities, and eliminating perceived opponents. Compounding the crisis, they outlawed women’s education in the area, destroying about 200 girls’ schools.

It was in 2012 in the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Pakistani Taliban militant. She miraculously survived the attack, going on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of girls’ education.



Allied with Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan emerged in 2007, killing tens of thousands of civilians and security personnel.

Crushed in a military crackdown after 2014, TTP has regrouped since the Taliban came to power across the border in August 2021.

For the Jan. 30 Peshawar blast, Pakistani police have blamed Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a more radical group occasionally affiliated to the TTP, which has denied involvement.

Large-scale counterinsurgency operations began in 2014, killing most militant commanders and fighters and driving the rest into Afghanistan. The areas constituting FATA, established at the time of partition from India in 1947, were amalgamated into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018.

However, after the Taliban returned to power in Kabul and the US ended counterterrorism operations in the border region, Pakistani militants began to regroup in the former tribal districts. Since then, a rash of deadly attacks have left Pakistanis in little doubt that their country faces a renewed insurgency.

Ismail Khan, a Pakistani journalist and security analyst, believes the Sharif government urgently needs to devise “a holistic and long-term strategy in the conference to deal with the problem at hand.”

At the same time, he told Arab News, “the government should also directly engage with the Afghan government to put an end to the cross-border movement of the terrorists, besides formulating and implementing a robust counterterrorism strategy.”

In January alone, the militants killed 124 security personnel and injured 247 in 26 separate attacks, the majority of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Afghanistan, according to data shared by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.

The breakdown of the data shows that of these 26 attacks, seven took place in Balochistan, in which six people were killed and 17 were injured; one in Sindh with no casualties; two in Punjab, killing two; and 16 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing 116 and injuring 230.

According to the think tank, attacks rose by 50 percent in Pakistan, mostly along the western provinces bordering Afghanistan, during the first year of Taliban rule in Kabul.

In recent months, Islamabad has accused Kabul of failing to secure its borders and allowing militants inside Afghanistan to plan attacks against Pakistan.

Peace negotiations between the TTP and Pakistan, mediated by the Afghan Taliban, fell through in November, shattering a shaky cease-fire. During the talks, the militants had their numbers boosted by the release of about 100 low-level fighters from Pakistani jails.

Major General Ejaz Awan (retired), a prominent security analyst and former Pakistani ambassador to Brunei, believes a military response is the only solution to the terror threat.

“They are not willing to acknowledge Pakistan’s constitution, law, and writ of the state, therefore there is only one option left now and that is to wage a full-fledged war against them,” Awan told Arab News.

Awan, who held several rounds of unsuccessful peace talks with the militants in the early 2000s, wants the Pakistani government to launch an intelligence-based operation in the country’s tribal districts and other areas to eradicate the militants, their facilitators and supporters.

“These militants are equipped with the latest gadgets like night vision goggles left by the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan after their withdrawal, so Pakistan should also take it up with the Afghan authorities,” he said. 

According to investigators who spoke to the AFP news agency, the suspect appeared on CCTV arriving at the compound gates on a motorcycle before walking through a security checkpoint and asking officers where the Police Lines Mosque was located.

Moazzam Jah Ansari, the head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province police force, said the bomber used 10-12 kg of explosive material, brought to the site in advance of the attack in bits and pieces.

Authorities have been hard put to come up with an explanation for the suicide bomber’s success in gaining access to the mosque dressed in police uniform.

They are investigating how such a major breach could have occurred in one of the most secure areas of the city, which houses the intelligence and counterterrorism bureaus, amid concerns that people inside the police compound may have enabled the attack.

Hundreds of police were attending afternoon prayers inside what should have been a tightly controlled police headquarters when the blast erupted, causing a wall to collapse and crush scores of officers.

On Feb. 2, police officials revised the death toll down from 101 to 83 officers and one civilian, after saying there was confusion in registering bodies. Many survivors remain in hospital in a critical condition.

Expressing solidarity with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “stressed the Kingdom’s firm position that rejects targeting places of worship and terrorizing and shedding the blood of innocent people,” according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

The ministry “also affirmed that the Kingdom stands by the brotherly Islamic Republic of Pakistan against all forms of violence, extremism, and terrorism, regardless of its motives or justifications.”

The attack also drew strong condemnations from the Muslim World League and the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, among other international organizations.

“It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship,” Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said through a spokesperson. “Freedom of religion or belief, including the ability to worship in peace and security, is a universal human right.”

Imran Khan, the former Pakistan prime minister who is a fierce critic of the current government, said: “It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Prime Minister Sharif has appealed for national unity in the wake of the Peshawar attack. “We should unite and tackle this,” he said on Feb. 3 during his visit to the city.

But given the array of challenges facing Pakistan, his government’s attention is likely to continue to be divided across multiple fronts.


Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

Updated 25 February 2024

Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

  • Haris Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder during Karachi-Lahore match on Saturday
  • Doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from injury, says Lahore Qalandars 

LAHORE: Fast bowler Haris Rauf has been ruled out of the remainder of the Pakistan Super League after dislocating his shoulder during two-time defending champion Lahore Qalandars’ two-wicket loss against Karachi Kings on Saturday.

The franchise said in a statement on Sunday that doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from the injury after undergoing scans.

Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder in the last over while holding onto a stunning catch of Hasan Ali during Karachi’s thrilling run-chase as Lahore lost its fourth successive game in Pakistan’s premier domestic Twenty20 event.

Rauf struggled in the first three games but bounced back against Karachi with economical figures of 1-22 off his four overs.

“We are deeply saddened by Haris Rauf’s injury,” Lahore captain Shaheen Shah Afridi said. “It was painful to see him missing out … and his absence will be felt.”

Rauf’s injury is the second major bowling setback for Lahore after its premier spinner Rashid Khan of Afghanistan was ruled out before the tournament due to a back injury.

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

  • M/s Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market, exports to South Asian country
  • Three mergers are not anticipated to raise competition concerns in the relevant market, says competition commission

ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) this week approved three mergers concerning a leading Saudi company that has a significant presence in Pakistan’s steel market, the regulatory body said. 

Based in the kingdom, M/s/ Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) produces a range of steel products and deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market. Hadeed also exports to the South Asian country through international traders.

The CCP said in its press release on Saturday that the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, sent a pre-merger application to CCP to acquire 100 percent shareholding of Hadeed from M/s. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (“SABIC”).

“PIF has entered into a share purchase agreement with SABIC, under which SABIC agrees to sell its entire share capital of Hadeed to PIF,” the CCP said. 

The second merger involved Hadeed acquiring 100 percent shareholding of Al Rajhi Steel Industries Company from M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment. 

Al Rajhi Steel, established in 1978, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Invest and is known for its steel manufacturing capabilities in Saudi Arabia. This involved a share exchange agreement between Hadeed and Al Rajhi Invest.

In the third stage, the CCP said PIF intends to dispose off its 44.5 percent shareholding in Hadeed to M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment, the CCP. It added that the move was intended to share control over Hadeed and Al Rajhi Steel to improve their respective production capabilities and increase their operational efficiency.

“These transactions, as per the information available, are not anticipated to raise any competition concerns in the relevant market,” the CCP said. 

It said Pakistan’s steel sector is “one of the most important industries in the country” and with investments, can raise the country’s GDP to bring benefits to both the economy and investors.

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

  • Polio volunteers to immunize children under five years old from Feb. 26 to March 3, says national health ministry 
  • Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a Western ploy to sterilize Pakistan’s population

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal health secretary Iftikhar Shallwani on Sunday inaugurated a nationwide campaign against polio that aims to immunize over 45.8 million children against the disease, the national health ministry said. 

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio is endemic. The disease affects the nervous system of children and ultimately leads to paralysis.

The South Asian country’s efforts to contain polio have often been met with opposition, especially in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where militants have carried out attacks against vaccinators and the security teams guarding them. 

Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. 

Shallwani inaugurated the campaign, which is set to launch nationwide on Monday, by administering polio drops to children. 

“This pivotal campaign, scheduled from Feb 26 to Mar 3, aims to immunize over 45.8 million children under the age of 5 across the country,” the Ministry of National Health Services wrote on X platform. 

Shallwani said polio is a “terrible” disease that can cause paralysis in children.

“Unfortunately, it continues to be a threat to our children because some people refuse to vaccinate children based on misconceptions and false information about the vaccine,” he said. 

He said volunteers will deliver the vaccine to people’s doorsteps from next week, requesting parents to cooperate with them. 

“I implore you to recognize the threat posed by the poliovirus to your children and ensure that you open your doors to facilitate their vaccination,” the health official said. 

Pakistani masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. 

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash

Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash

  • Multan Sultans lost their first match of the tournament to Peshawar Zalmi this week 
  • Despite the loss, the Sultans top the Pakistan Super League points table due to strong run rate

ISLAMABAD: The undefeated Quetta Gladiators will be put to the test today, Sunday, when they face table-toppers Multan Sultans in match number 11 of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 set to take place in Multan. 

The Sultans sit pretty at the top of the table with six points from four matches. However, they lost to former champions Peshawar Zalmi on Friday by five wickets at their home ground in Multan. 

Under new skipper Rilee Rossouw, however, the Gladiators have won all three matches of theirs. 

“I am aware of the conditions on Multan hence I don’t encounter any difficulties playing there,” Rossouw said. “Every match is a new contest, we will implement our plan to win it.”

The Gladiators have the same number of points as the Gladiators, six, from three matches. However, they are placed at number two on the table due to a net run rate of +0.686. The Sultans have a run rate of +0.812 from their four matches. 

The match between the two sides is expected to begin at 2:00 p.m.

Playing XIs (probable):

Multan Sultans: Mohammad Rizwan (c & wk), Dawid Malan, Reeza Hendricks, Yasir Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, David Willey, Usama Mir, Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani

Quetta Gladiators: Saud Shakeel, Jason Roy, Rilee Rossouw (c), Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Khawaja Nafay, Shefane Rutherford, Akeal Hosein, Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Hasnain

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly elects speaker from majority party 

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly elects speaker from majority party 

  • Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Owais Qadir Shah secures 111 votes to win speaker’s election 
  • Election for the post of Sindh chief minister is scheduled to be held on Monday

KARACHI: Elections for the coveted posts of speaker and deputy speaker of Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly will be held today, Sunday, state-run media said, a day after newly elected members of the assembly were sworn in. 

Saturday’s oath-taking ceremony was marred by protests in Karachi staged by supporters of various political parties who allege that the Feb. 8 elections were heavily rigged. 

Supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s southern zone to protest alleged manipulation of Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in release of constituency results.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which bagged the highest number of seats in Sindh, has nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again. The party has also nominated Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.

“Elections of speaker and deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly will be held on Sunday,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “On the other hand, the election of Sindh Chief Minister will be held tomorrow (Monday).”

The PPP bagged 84 seats in the southern Pakistani province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats were won by independent candidates. The JI and the GDA won two seats each.

While the inaugural Sindh Assembly session was in progress, several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as a “Black Day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at their supporters protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month.

In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.