ISLAMABAD: The gruesome bus bombing on the Charsadda Road which has been claimed by a little known Taliban-linked militant group has given credence to the apprehensions of security establishment that the Taliban were never sincere in making peace with the state of Pakistan.
Ansarul Mujahideen, which has claimed responsibility for the bus blast, surfaced early this year with the avowed aim of avenging the civilian killings in the Waziristan region by US drone attacks.
Conspicuously, however, the Friday’s bus blast itself killed 20 civilians. The Charsadda Road attack came a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spelled out, for the first time, the conditions that the Taliban would have to accept if his government proceeds with a peace deal with the militants. He demanded that the Taliban should lay down arms and recognise the Pakistani Constitution. Earlier, on Sept 23, Nawaz Sharif said that the behaviour and actions of the Taliban did not augur well for any kind of peace talks as his government’s efforts for a dialogue were now deemed not to be moving forward despite the fact that the government had been very sincere in its offer.
Therefore, the Charsadda Road blast is being described by many as a clear message from the Taliban that they are in no mood to lay down arms and surrender to the authority of the state of Pakistan, as demanded by Nawaz Sharif. At least, 20 people were killed and nearly 40 were injured when another bus carrying government workers was bombed in the same area in June 2012 which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Having killed (on September 15) the General Officer Commanding of Swat — a serving Major General — TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid had stated that they were still at war with the government troops because peace talks had yet to start, adding that they will continue targeting the government functionaries unless a unilateral ceasefire was declared by the Pakistan government. When the TTP spokesman was asked about his group’s future plans after the killing of GOC Swat, he said: “We will never miss any opportunity to attack the army like that.”
The Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had subsequently declared on September 16 that militants would not be allowed to take advantage of the peace talks offer and those responsible for the killing of senior army officers would be taken to task. Therefore, it seems that the bus attack is yet another act of terrorism on the part of the TTP in line with its recent threat.
However, the TTP is careful not to claim responsibility of such terror attacks directly, in an apparent bid to avoid backlash from the masses, as had happened following the last week’s church bombing in Peshawar. Therefore, little known militant groups are coming forward to make responsibility claims, instead of the TTP.
Besides claiming the bus attack on Friday, Ansarul Mujahideen spokesman Abu Baseer had said on July 8, 2013 (while claiming another assault on a security forces check post in North Waziristan) that the group would make life difficult for the United States and its friends in return for the US drone attacks. In a statement issued from an undisclosed location soon after the attack, the spokesman said their group had been formed in the wake of drone attacks in North and South Waziristan as they consider it a shameful act by remaining silent on drone attacks. He said there were hundreds of Mujahideen who have entered into the battlefield to avenge the missile attacks by pilotless US drones. He said the Waziristan attack on the security forces’ check-post was a beginning and their future attacks would surprise the world. But it seems that instead of avenging the drone attacks from US, the Ansarul Mujahideen is actually killing innocent Pakistan civilians.
According to intelligence findings, the North Waziristan-based Ansarul Mujahideen is known to include Uzbek fighters. In a previous terrorist strike on September 1, 2013, the group had killed nine Frontier Corps troops in an IED attack targeting a military convoy in the TTP-controlled North Waziristan. The group’s spokesman Abu Baseer said at that time that the attack was carried out to avenge a US drone strike that took place in the tribal agency just days ago and killed four members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a terrorist group allied with al-Qaeda and TTP. The attack took place in the Boya area of North Waziristan. The troops were travelling from the Dattakhel area, a known al-Qaeda haven, to Miramshah when their convoy was hit by a remotely detonated IED. Baseer had threatened to expand activities outside the tribal areas. “And the Pakistan government will be responsible for the future attacks because it is providing space for the US drone strikes,” he added.
On August 15, 2013, almost two weeks before conducting the North Waziristan attack, the TTP and Ansarul Mujahideen had threatened to target two high-profile personalities of the Punjab and the Federation (without naming Nawaz and Shahbaz) and carry out suicide bombings in Fata against the government functionaries if Aqeel alias Dr Usman and his associates were hanged in a Faisalabad jail as per schedule on August 23, 2013. A statement sent to the media by the TTP spokesman said a squad of suicide bombers had been constituted and if Dr Usman, the main accused in the GHQ attack case, was hanged, two key figures of the PML-N would be targeted to avenge the deaths.
Similarly, the Ansarul Mujahideen also warned the same day of carrying out suicide attacks against the government functionaries in tribal areas in case Dr Usman was hanged. Abu Baseer told the media over phone from an undisclosed location that they would carry out a new sting operation of suicide attacks if Dr Usman and his associates were sent to the gallows. Dr Usman’s execution was subsequently deferred by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for an indefinite period.