March 16 terrorist attack in Peshawar, targeting a bus carrying government employs, killed 17 persons. Peshawar saw yet another blood bath and horrible scenes were witnessed as the rescue worker cut through the mangled heap of iron of the decimated bus to take dead bodies and wounded passengers out of it. The tragedy came a day after the meeting of top Generals of the Pakistan Army which expressed satisfaction over the progress of 20 month old military operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and some other parts of FATA and hinted at its completion in the near future. It was also in this very week that Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif upheld the death sentence granted by military courts to a number of persons accused of committing terrorist acts.
Lashkar-e-Islami (LI), a Khyber Agency based militant organization which is an ally of Taliban took responsibility for the attack which according to it was an act of revenge for the death sentence handed out to the alleged terrorists. But even before it the terrorist attacks have continued with dangerous frequency in Pakhtunkhwa and FATA during the first three months of the new year. They include suicide attack in Karkhano Market in Peshawar suburbs killing 12 people and injuring 39, terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University on January 11 killing 21 and injuring 39 persons and a suicide attack on the courts building in Shabqadar subdivision of Charsada district that left 17 persons dead including 6 women. In FATA there were a number of terrorist incidents like attack on a Khassadar post in Moomand Agency on February 17 killing 5 Khassadars, IED attack in Datta Khel North Waziristan killing 3 persons and some other incidents. Here we have not mentioned numerous incidents of target killings or collateral damage in military operations against terrorist networks in FATA that includes aerial bombardments, drone attacks or casualties in clashes on Pak-Afghan borders. There has also been a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks on the western side of the Durand Line in recent times causing death and destruction on a large scale.
So the fact of the matter is that Pashtuns remain in the eye of the terrorist storm irrespective of the claims made by the Government of Pakistan. Target killing and kidnapping for ransom has seen a phenomenal rise in Peshawar and other parts of Pakhtunkhwa. Reacting to the deteriorating situation the PTI led provincial government has decided to requisition Rangers for stabilizing the law and order situation in the province. This decision not only amounts to declaring no confidence in provincial police which has rendered heroic sacrifices in war against terror but it also reflects concern over the fall out of volatile situation in FATA even after Operation Zarb-e-Azb. By now it is pretty clear that as long as the Pakistani state does not completely discard the Taliban project aimed at achieving strategic depth in Afghanistan rivers of blood will continue to flow in Pashtun/Afghan land. Putting a spin on it by distinguishing good Taliban from bad Taliban won’t help.
Externalising the problem by putting blame on Afghanistan is not convincing as thousands of Afghans have been killed by Taliban (whose leadership is sitting in Pakistan according to Mr. Sartaj Aziz) during the last two years in suicide attacks, blasts and terrorist activities. If Pakistan based Afghan Taliban can bomb their way to power in Afghanistan what is to stop TTP from using the same formula in FATA while sitting in sanctuaries provided to them by Afghan Taliban? It is a dangerous model that can be repeated everywhere. If the past experience is anything to go by policy of bombing them in Pakistan and empowering them in Afghanistan is not tenable.
After APS attack on December 16, 2014 and the subsequent declaration of collective resolve to fight terrorism there was a hope that attack on any part of country will be treated as an attack on Pakistan. But the level and nature of response to fresh wave of terrorist attacks in FATA and Pakhtunkhwa has been quite disappointing. PM or Interior Minister didn’t visit BK University or even the province after devastating attacks. Condemnations and condolences are brief and soulless as one would expect from Pakistan in response to an attack in another continent. Barring the initial photo sessions and publicity gimmicks, state leadership has literally put its back on Pashtun IDPs. The IDPs don’t know what has happened to the 11,000 shops full of precious commodities in Miran Shah and Mir Ali bazaars? Who has auctioned the materials of their destroyed house and shops and where have they gone? Winning hearts and minds would require answers to these questions. No state functionary or government representative has ever visited the about one hundred thousand IDPs who crossed over into Afghanistan in 2014 during military operation in Waziristan. Are they not Pakistani citizens? Frustration is deepening among Pashtuns over the continuing bloodshed due to the misguided government policy of supporting Talibanization and indifference of state over their plight. Even on societal level one can’t see the type of support or solidarity as one would expect from compatriots. When Pashtuns raise this issue even some of the liberal Punjabi friends patronisingly ask them to refrain from “ethnicising” the problem. Really? Look at the map of terrorist problems and the province or region wise break up of the number of terrorist attacks and casualties occurring therein to appreciate the ground reality of the “front-line state”. After the bus attack many Pashtuns (even some of the non-nationalist ones) expressed their disappointment over the response from the state and rest of the country (apart from some noble exceptions).
An interesting tweet by a writer from Peshawar after the bus attack on March 16 says it all; “Responses guaranteed to annoy me re #PeshawarBlast 1/these happen all the time 2 / your backward culture causes it 3/ don’t promote negativity”. The pertinent question is will Pakhtukhwa bleed to the last Pakhtun and will the Pakhtuns be taken for granted to get along?
Pashtuns remain in the eye of the terrorist storm irrespective of the claims made by the Government of Pakistan.