Battling terrorism

August 6, 2023

After a deadly attack on a political rally, prime minister and the army chief reiterate resolve to eradicate militancy

Battling terrorism


he July 31 suicide attack on a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam convention in Bajaur that killed dozens of people is a continuation of the ideological conflict emerging in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen Syed Asim Munir visited the Combined Military Hospital, Peshawar, soon after the attack to inquire after those injured in the blast. The prime minister asked the hospital authorities to provide the best treatment facilities available to the injured until their full recovery. “Security forces and law enforcement agencies, with the support of the nation, will ensure that those responsible for the cowardly attacks are brought to justice soon. Concrete steps should be taken by relevant governments to prevent their soil from being used for terrorism in other countries,” he added.

The prime minister was also briefed on the overall security situation in the province and informed about the ongoing investigation into the Bajaur suicide blast. He expressed concern over the involvement of Afghan citizens in suicide bombings in Pakistan. He regretted that some people were planning cowardly attacks on Pakistani citizens from across the border. According to a handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, he also expressed concern over the freedom of action apparently available to elements hostile to Pakistan in planning and executing such cowardly attacks. “The interim Afghan government should undertake concrete measures to deny the use of its soil for transnational terrorism,” the prime minister was quoted as saying at the briefing.

A string of terrorist attacks has rocked Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The roots of the latest violence can be traced back to Afghanistan.

On August 26, 2021, when evacuation by US-led coalition forces had yet to be completed, a suicide attack had taken place at the Kabul airport in the presence of Afghan Taliban leaders. Considering the coalition forces were leaving Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban were taking over the government, what was this new force challenging Taliban? It was the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which was now describing the Afghan Taliban as enemies of Islam.

Soon after the Taliban came to power, renowned Salafi scholar Abu Obaidullah Mutawakkil was killed in Kabul. Mutawakkil had in the past been accused of supporting Daesh. Some of the Afghan Taliban leaders believe that the most of the Daesh fighters belong to the Salafi school. For this reason, a crackdown was launched against Salafi centres throughout Afghanistan.

The modern Salafism became popular in Afghanistan under the leadership of Maulvi Afzal and Sheikh Jameel-ur Rahman in Nuristan and Kunar in the 1980s during armed resistance against Russia. Sheikh Jameelur Rehman from Kunar was once a part of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami. He later left the Hizb and at one stage fought against Hekmatyar. As a result of this fighting, in 1991, he was forced to seek refuge in Bajaur, across the border from Kunar. He was killed in Bajaur in August 1991. Inspired by his ideology and resistance, Sufi Muhammad later started a Sharia enforcement movement in Bajaur and Malakand under his Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-Mohammadi (TNSM).

Battling terrorism

During his visit to Peshawar, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif was briefed about the overall security situation in the province and the ongoing investigation into the Bajaur suicide blast. He expressed concern over the involvement of Afghan citizens in suicide bombings in Pakistan.
Battling terrorism

A majority of the Afghan Taliban belong to the Hanafi Deobandi school. The recent violence is similar to the civil war that had erupted after the withdrawal of the Russian forces in 1988. At that time, Sheikh Jameel-ur Rehman had led his faction in a war on other mujahideen factions.

The war had crossed the border when Afghan Taliban leader Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani was targeted in Peshawar for opposing Daesh. He had a narrow escape. After the arrival of Afghan Taliban, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani moved to Kabul, where he was later killed in a suicide attack.

Daesh recognises the JUI as the largest religio-political party of the Hanafi Deobandi school in the region and sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban. The militant outfit also rejects democratic governance and is fighting to establish a global caliphate. Since the Afghan Taliban have no such global agenda and want to enforce their version of shariah in Afghanistan alone, the ISIS is also carrying out attacks against them. In addition to the caliphate, Daesh has previously mentioned Khorasan (Afghanistan) and the invasion of India (Ghazwa-i-Hind).

The JUI has become a target of Daesh on account of its choice of parliamentary politics. A pamphlet explaining this reason was released by the group soon after the Bajaur attack. In this 92-page pamphlet, the group accused the JUI of working for a democratic system instead of the caliphate.

The ideological dispute has also affected the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Many of its fighters argue that like the Afghan Taliban who have forced the US to withdraw from their country, they can prevail against the Pakistani government and security agencies. Some of the militants operating in Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have also been emboldened.

Adjacent to Bajaur across the border, in the Afghan province of Kunar, there are many religious leaders belonging to the Salafi school.

Usman Turabi, the Taliban governor of Kunar, has tried his best to dispel the impression that the Afghan Taliban are anti-Salafi. So far his efforts have failed to persuade the local Salafi leaders.

Daesh has claimed responsibility for the killing of more than two dozen local leaders of the party. All the slain associates of the JUI were locally known as Emarati for their support to the Afghan Taliban and their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. To quell the unrest, security forces have conducted several intelligence based operations (IBOs) in Bajaur, killing some key terrorist fighters. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban are conducting intensive operations against Daesh in Afghanistan, including in the Kunar province.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer. He also works for the digital media platform The Khorasan Diary

Battling terrorism