A new wave of terror?

November 1, 2020

The blasts in Quetta and Peshawar took place after a threat alert was issued by the NACTA, warning that terrorist groups were planning to carry out large-scale attacks targeting political and religious leaders

Peshawar suffered yet another terrorist attack on October 27.

The city had largely been spared acts of terrorism for some time due to the weakening of the militant groups as a result of sustained military operations against them. Therefore, the bomb explosion at the Jamia Zubairia, a religious school that is part of the Spin Jumaat mosque complex, in Dir Colony near the Ring Road that martyred eight students and injured 90 shocked people across the city and caused concern all over the country.

As the bomb blast happened two days after the terrorist attack in Quetta’s Hazarganji market killing three people and injuring seven, many interpreted it as a new wave of terrorism targeting Pakistan. In Quetta, an improvised explosive device (IED) linked to a motorcycle was exploded apparently with a time-device to cause the blast. In Peshawar, five kilograms of explosives hidden in a school bag along with ball bearings to cause greater harm was allegedly placed in the hall of the madrassah, triggering an explosion with a time-device.

The blasts in Quetta and Peshawar took place after a threat alert was issued by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), warning that terrorist groups were planning to carry out large-scale attacks targeting political and religious leaders. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and their capitals, Peshawar and Quetta, were specifically mentioned as the likely targets. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was also mentioned by name as the likely perpetrator of these attacks along with militant groups allied to it. As subsequent events showed, the NACTA was right in issuing the threat alert.

The TTP was the first to deny its involvement in the Peshawar madrassah attack. One may well ask why it did so before it could be blamed for the attack. No group has claimed the responsibility for the Quetta and Peshawar terrorist strikes. Militants often do not claims attacks on places of worships for Muslims or in which children and other innocent persons are killed. When there is no claim of responsibility one has to wait for the investigations and law-enforcement agencies to identify and track down the attackers.

The Quetta blast happened on the day the 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), was holding its anti-government public meeting at the Ayub Stadium in the city as part of its ongoing campaign aimed at ousting Prime Minister Imran Khan from power. Though the blast on the same day in Quetta was a matter of concern, it took place in a different part of the city more than half an hour’s drive away from the venue of the PDM rally.

Following the threat alert released by the NACTA, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP)-led coalition government in Balochistan had urged the PDM leadership to call off the public meeting in Quetta due to the security risk. However, the PDM decided to hold the meeting as all preparations had been made for it. Certain opposition members even called it a government tactic to create fear and get the public meeting cancelled.

The government had to take extraordinary measures to provide security for the PDM meeting in Quetta. More than 4,000 cops and personnel of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Balochistan Constabulary were deployed, cell phone services were suspended and pillion riding was banned.

The Peshawar incident was heart-wrenching. Poor madrassah students, belonging to various areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and even Afghanistan were targetted while they were listening to a lecture by their teacher, Shaikh Rahimullah Haqqani, on ahadith. The teacher, whose talk was being live-streamed on Facebook, miraculously escaped. It is unclear if he was the target, though the attacker couldn’t place the explosives-filled bag near him. This teacher, who originally belongs to Afghanistan and has been teaching at this school for the last six years, had reportedly survived an assassination attempt two years ago near the madrassah. He may have been a target in the past as well.

The TTP was the first to deny its involvement in the Peshawar madrassah attack. One may well ask why it did so before it could be blamed for the attack.By Rahimullah Yusufzai

In a statement after the blast, Shaikh Rahimullah Haqqani blamed the “Khwarij” (Kharijite, meaning those who have defected from the community) for the attack on the “House of Allah” and said their forefathers had killed the third and fourth caliphs of Islam, Usman and Ali (with whom Allah was pleased), and they were now targeting the true followers of the religion, including the teachers and students of the madrassahs. Quoting a saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that the Khwarij would fight against the Muslims and their mosques, madrassahs and students until the Day of Judgement, he said these defeated elements cannot succeed in their cowardly attacks.

It is possible that he was referring to the ISIS Khorasan, or Daesh as it is commonly called, though this terrorist group is known for targetting Shias and claiming responsibility for almost every attack it carries out.

If one looks at the ages of the martyred and wounded persons, almost all of them were below 30 years. Some were in their early teens. There were moving scenes when their funerals were held. People were pained to see copies of the holy Quran and other religious books scattered all over the place.

Dr Sanaullah Abbasi, the police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who hails from Sindh, expressed the inability of his force to secure all the 4,000 madrassahs and 30,000 mosques under his command. However, he claimed that all the mosques and madrassahs facing a serious threat have been provided security. He also claimed that the police were able to find and defuse 18 IEDs in the province in recent weeks to foil terrorist attacks.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan announced Rs 500,000 compensation each for the slain students and Rs 200,000 for every one who was injured. However, some religious leaders and heads of madrassahs called the amount inadequate and demanded a compensation equal to that paid to those martyred in the December 16, 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School at Peshawar.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, currently leading the mass agitation against Prime Minister Imran Khan, said the PTI government cannot be relied to provide security to the madrassahs. He said those running the seminaries and teaching and studying there themselves would have to secure these institutions. Madrassah students and teachers can be a very potent force for the JUI-F and the PDM if they have to make an impact in its agitation against the government.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at rahimyusufzai@yahoo.com

Blast in Quetta and Peshawar: A new wave of terror?