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.


COP28 delegates urge greater action on climate-linked health risks

Updated 13 sec ago

COP28 delegates urge greater action on climate-linked health risks

  • In September, Storm Daniel killed over 11,000 in Libya, floods in Pakistan last year fueled a 400% increase in malaria cases
  • Experts say countries will need to boost funding for healthcare amid heatwaves, diseases like malaria and cholera spreading

DUBAI: Physicians, activists and country representatives at this year's COP28 U.N. climate summit in Dubai have called for greater global efforts to protect people from the increasing health and safety risks posed by climate change. 

With global temperatures set to continue climbing for decades, experts say countries will need to boost funding for healthcare as heatwaves become more dangerous and diseases like malaria and cholera spread. 

Climate-related impacts "have become one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century", COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber said in a statement. 

Late on Saturday, 123 of the nearly 200 countries gathered at COP28 signed a declaration acknowledging their responsibility to keep people safe. The declaration made no mention of fossil fuels, the main source of climate-warming emissions. 

Thanks to climate change, cases of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress are already on the rise in some regions. 

A small group of physicians in white coats and climate activists held a small demonstration within the COP28 compound to raise awareness of the issue on Sunday. 

"We are in a lot of trouble," said Joseph Vipond, an emergency physician from Alberta, Canada. He recalled the case of a child dying from an asthma attack made worse by smoke inhalation from Western Canada's record wildfires this year. "This is having real world impacts." 

Climate change is also increasing the frequency of dangerous storms and more erratic rainfall. 

In September Storm Daniel killed more than 11,000 people in Libya, and last year's massive flooding in Pakistan fueled a 400% increase in malaria cases across the country, according to the World Health Organization. 

Governments and philanthropic bodies are expected later on Sunday to announce new financing for climate-related health issues. 

The World Bank on Sunday launched a new Climate and Health program to explore possible interventions and public health solutions for developing countries. 

Ten of the world's top development banks including the World Bank also said on Sunday they would work together to help countries track climate impacts, including public health risks, and to identify investment opportunities and priorities. 

In a statement, the banks said the window of opportunity to secure a liveable planet was "rapidly closing". 

Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates said scientists were working on new treatments for and prevention of mosquito-spread malaria as the rise in temperatures creates more hospitable habitat for the insects to breed. 

"We have new tools at the lab level that decimate mosquito populations," said Gates, whose foundation supports public health research and projects for the developing world. 

"These new innovations give us a chance, at a reasonable cost, to make progress." 

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke on Sunday at COP28, urging reform to the world's insurance system as another key requirement to keep people safe. 

"Right now insurance companies are pulling out of so many places, they're not insuring homes, they're not insuring businesses," Clinton said, addressing a panel on women and climate resiliency 

"As the climate changes, as storms increase and drought and heat increase ... it's people everywhere who are going to be left out with no backup, no insurance for their business or their home," she said. 

Transporters in northwest Pakistan strike over killing of eight people in attack on passenger bus

Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Transporters in northwest Pakistan strike over killing of eight people in attack on passenger bus

  • The attack took place near the Chilas town of Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan region
  • Pakistani Taliban distance themselves from the attack, no other group claims responsibility

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: Transporters across Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region on Sunday observed a wheel-jam strike after a passenger bus was targeted by unidentified militants near the Chilas town, killing eight people and injuring 25 others a day earlier.  

Chilas, a rugged, mountainous town, lies in GB's Diamer district, which has been a site of militant attacks, including some claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. In 2018, militants torched 13 girls’ schools in the district, while in 2012, unidentified gunmen killed nine passengers and torched six buses in the region. 

However, the Pakistani Taliban distanced themselves from Saturday's attack, while no group immediately claimed responsibility for targeting the passenger bus that was en route to Rawalpindi from Gilgit. Officials said they were investigating the attack. 

“All transporters are on strike today after this tragic incident in all districts of Gilgit-Baltistan,” Ashraf Al-Hussaini, president of the GB transporters association, told Arab News.  

"This is not the first incident in this region. We had to face such incidents in the past as well in which many people were killed."

Law enforcement officers stand next to a damaged bus that came under attack by unidentified militants in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan on December 2, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/Pamir Times)

He urged the government to increase patrolling of law enforcement agencies and set up security check-posts along a section of the Karakoram Highway passing through the district. 

Hussaini said their strike was only for Sunday and they would announce their next move soon. 

GB Information Minister Iman Shah said law enforcement authorities were investigating the attack and trying to ascertain the motive behind it. 

“Treatment of the injured people is ongoing and bodies of the deceased are being shifted to their native towns and villages," Shah told Arab News over the phone. “No one has yet claimed the responsibility for the attack.” 

Diamer Superintendent of Police (SP) Sheheryar Khan said unidentified militants opened fire on the bus in the Chilas-Hudur region at around 6:30pm on Saturday. 

Arif Ahmed, the Diamer deputy commissioner, said some of the passengers hailed from the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southern Sindh provinces. 

"Two Pakistan Army soldiers were among the people martyred in the attack," he told reporters. 

In a text message to Arab News, the Pakistani Taliban distanced themselves from the attack. 

“Tehreek-e-Taliban has nothing to do with the firing incident on a bus in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Chilas area,” said Muhammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the group. 

In boost for Modi, India’s BJP set to win 3 of 4 key state polls

Updated 03 December 2023

In boost for Modi, India’s BJP set to win 3 of 4 key state polls

  • Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana states voted last month before the national vote due by May
  • BJP had established clear leads in three of these states and appeared set to win them, vote-counting data suggested

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday appeared set to win three of four states in key regional polls, in a big boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of general elections in six months. 

The heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the southern state of Telangana, voted last month in the last set of provincial elections before the national vote due by May, when Modi seeks a third term. 

BJP had established clear leads in all three heartland states and appeared set to win them, vote-counting data from the independent election panel and five news TV channels showed. 

BJP’s performance was better than widely expected as opinion and exit polls had suggested a close contest between Modi’s party and the main opposition Congress, indicating BJP and Modi’s growing popularity despite a decade in power nationally. 

Although Congress won Telangana, its second victory in the south this year, Sunday’s outcome is seen as a setback to the party and its leader Rahul Gandhi as it was wiped out of the politically critical heartland. 

“We always said we will win the heartland states,” BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda told Reuters. “The results are the outcome of our finest political strategy and work on the ground.” 

BJP members and supporters burst firecrackers, distributed sweets and danced in the streets to the beat of drums in the three states. 

“It’s a clean sweep by the BJP in three states, the mandate proves voters trust Modi,” said federal aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who belongs to Madhya Pradesh. 

Modi remains widely popular after a decade in power and surveys suggest he will win again next year. However, a 28-party opposition alliance led by the Congress party has come together to jointly fight BJP, posing a new challenge. 

Congress disappointed 

BJP also suffered a setback when it lost the big southern state of Karnataka to Congress earlier this year as Gandhi worked hard to revive the party since its drubbing in the 2019 general elections and went on a 135-day march across the country covering more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles). 

He also helped build the opposition alliance, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA, after the Karnataka victory and his temporary disqualification from parliament after being convicted in a defamation case. 

But the alliance did not feature in the state polls due to internal rivalries and it was a direct contest between BJP and Congress. 

“The Congress has done extremely well in Telangana... Yes, it is disappointing to see losses in three states, but we are still the opposition with a strong presence,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told Reuters. 

The four states are home to more than 160 million voters and account for 82 seats in the 543-member parliament. 

Modi and leaders of Congress, led by Gandhi, criss-crossed the states, addressing campaign rallies and promising cash payouts, farm loan waivers, subsidies and insurance cover, among other incentives, to woo voters. 

Politicians and analysts say state elections do not always influence the outcome of the general elections or accurately indicate national voter mood. 

Results of the last round of state elections before national elections have been misleading in the past. 

Sunday’s outcome is, however, expected to boost market sentiment. 

“Markets may have had a whiff of the likely results given the gains last week but the margin of victory will be a surprise,” said Gurmeet Chadha, managing partner at asset management firm Complete Circle. 

Markets should gain on Monday on the results, he said, adding it could be a “big move.” 

The small northeastern state of Mizoram also voted last month and votes there are due to be counted on Monday. 

Canadian man faces sentencing in January for killing four members of Pakistan-origin family

Updated 03 December 2023

Canadian man faces sentencing in January for killing four members of Pakistan-origin family

  • The incident occurred in 2021 when a white nationalist ran over the family with his truck in Ontario
  • Nathaniel Veltman was found guilty targeting the family during a hearing that took place last month

ISLAMABAD: A Canadian man, who killed four members of a Pakistan-origin family by deliberately running them over with his truck more than two years ago, is scheduled to be sentenced by a court in January, according to media reports.
The incident occurred on June 6, 2021, in Ontario. Five members of the Afzaal family were out for an evening walk when they were struck by a truck, driven by 22-year-old white nationalist Nathaniel Veltman.
The attack claimed the lives of Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah, and Afzaal's 74-year-old mother Talat.
The family’s nine-year-old child survived with serious injuries.
“Prosecutors and defence lawyers are scheduled to make their submissions on sentencing in the case of Nathaniel Veltman on Jan. 4 and 5,” reported CP24, a Canadian news channel.
“Veltman was found guilty last month of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk,” it added.
This incident sent shockwaves through Canada, a country with a huge immigrant population that prides itself on its multicultural character.
According to Reuters, prosecutors argued the attack was an act of terrorism, noting Veltman had written a manifesto entitled "A White Awakening" in which he outlined hatred of Islam and opposition to mass immigration and multiculturalism.
Veltman, who had confessed to his crime, was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder last month.
“Today’s verdict is a monumental step in the fight against hate and Islamophobia,” Reuters quoted Abdul Fattah Twakkal, a prayer leader at a mosque in the area where the incident happened, after the verdict. “It sets a precedent against white nationalist terrorism.”

Pakistan PM stresses $17 billion Indus River restoration need at Dubai’s COP28 sideline event

Updated 03 December 2023

Pakistan PM stresses $17 billion Indus River restoration need at Dubai’s COP28 sideline event

  • Ninety percent of Pakistan’s people and more than three-quarters of its economy reside in the Indus Basin
  • Kakar applauds project to increase water storage and recharge through wetlands, hill-torrents management

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar told a gathering on the margins of the United Nations climate conference in Dubai on Sunday Pakistan needed up to $17 billion for the next 15 years to work on the ecological restoration of the Indus River.
The giant waterway, nurturing the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world’s earliest urban cultures, has been a lifeline for the region for millennia, fostering agricultural prosperity and cultural development.
It continues to remains crucial to Pakistan’s sustenance, ensuring its food security, providing vital water resources and driving economic growth through hydroelectric power and other industries.
The prime minister, who is currently on a week-long visit to the Middle East and leading his country’s delegation at the 28th UN Conference of Parties (COP28) that began on Nov. 30, raised the issue at a ceremony organized by Living Indus, the largest climate initiative in Pakistan.
“Pakistani government is clear on its priorities with Living Indus, and we will work together to tackle the challenges, especially now that climate changes are aggravating,” he said.
“This initiative suggests that we need a minimum indicative investment of $11-17 billion over the next 15 years to mobilize from the public and private sector, citizens and communities,” he added.
Launched last September with UN support, the Living Indus initiative aims to protect and restore the vital river. The project aims to address challenges such as water scarcity, pollution, and habitat degradation through conservation and sustainable management.
The Indus Basin is home to 90 percent of Pakistan’s population and contributes to over three-quarters of its economy.
Despite its historical and ecological significance, however, the Indus is said to be the world’s second most polluted river.
Kakar thanked the World Wildlife Fund, United States Agency for International Development, Coca-Cola Foundation and Green Climate Fund for successfully developing “Recharge Pakistan” that aims to reduce climate vulnerability, calling it the first step toward Living Indus.
The project is designed to increase water storage and recharge through wetlands, floodplains and hill-torrents management.
“This will come in pieces, we understand, especially as Pakistan is facing a financial challenge,” he said, adding the flagship project with an international commitment to climate finance of nearly $78 billion was central to the country’s efforts in reducing future flooding and drought impacts.
The prime minister said flood and water resource management under the Living Indus framework would not only benefit millions of citizens but also serve as a model for climate innovation on a global scale.
“But more important is that the Living Indus initiative seeks to mobilize a movement that repairs and restores a healthy Indus for today and tomorrow,” he added.