Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bomb Blast in Peshawar Kills 5

According to breaking news reports today, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in Peshawar, killing 5 and injuring 23 others. Although western news sources noted the bombing occurred at "a Shiite mosque" in the city, several Pakistani news sources, including The News, specifically reported the attack happened "at the door of [an] Imambargah when people entering there were being scanned." Imambargahs are also known as Hussainias, which are congregation halls for Shiite ritual ceremonies, particularly those associated with Muharram. The AP reported, "The blast comes as minority Shiite Muslims prepare to mark the Ashoura festival, which in previous years has been marred by sectarian violence involving rival Sunnis." The news agency also cited Pakistan's Dawn TV that noted, "the Imambargah Qasim Baig mosque was crowded with worshippers at the time of the attack." A "crowd of enraged Shiites," crying and beating their chests, reportedly prevented the Associated Press reporter from reaching the scene. A separate article from The News reported that Karachi declared a "security high alert" on Thursday following the Peshawar bombing. Sectarian-motivated attacks often occur during Ashoura - just yesterday, a suicide bombing in Iraq targeting Shiite worshipers in Diyala province killed at least 8 people, and the bombing in Peshawar today reportedly occurred in the same quarter of the city where a suicide attack during Ashoura last year killed 11 people.

Most sources in today's Western press focused their coverage more heavily on an incident that occurred yesterday - when Islamist militants attacked and seized a small Pakistani army fort near the Afghan border. According to the LA Times, "Although the fighters did not gain significant ground in the attack Tuesday night on Sararogha Fort, they did further erode confidence in the U.S.-allied government's ability to control the frontier area where the Taliban and Al Qaeda flourish." The news agency cited Talat Masood, a retired general who is now a political analyst, who said Wednesday, "The militants are now challenging the army openly. They have become very bold and are consolidating their positions." The NY Times reported that Tehreek-i-Taliban, "an Islamic group that is sympathetic to the Taliban," said that it had carried out the attack and had killed 16 soldiers and captured 24. The newspaper added, "Militant groups operating in the tribal region formed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan ­ the Taliban Movement of Pakistan ­ last month, to coordinate their activities and wage a joint struggle against Pakistani forces."

An article in Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper reported today that Pakistan is "taking a more welcoming view of U.S. suggestions for using American troops to train and advise its own forces in the fight against anti-government extremists." The news agency cited U.S. commander of U.S. Central Command Adm. William Fallon who said Wednesday that "he believes increased violence inside Pakistan in recent months had led the country’s leaders to conclude that they must focus more intensively on Qaeda hideouts near Afghan border." Fallon said expanded U.S. military assistance to Pakistan would include a U.S. training program for tribal groups in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

Fallon's statements yesterday are extremely significant given the same tribal model that is currently being applied to Iraq. The organizations, known as the Awakening Councils (or interchangeably in some provinces as the Concerned Local Citizen Groups), has turned predominately Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and has subsequently been hailed as a success. The question, however, is could such a model be applied to Pakistan? Are there inherent differences in Pakistani tribal culture that may not allow such an approach to take root?


Fahad said...

The Gov. was trying to significantly improve the security situation for Muharram. Hopefully they can stop a breakout of secretarian violence-- its not like we have a lack of problems at hand!

What little good will he has left (if any) will def. erode if the US is officially allowed to enter Pakistan-- however I'm not sure if Mush. has any other options.

However, I don't think the Iraq model can be followed here-- The Frontier has historically been against the idea of foreign occupation-- it hasn't even let the central government of Pakistan rule in most parts of NWFP. The writ of the state has to be reestablished-- however the current Gov. can't do it because they lack credibility. A democratic regime could work diplomatically, and maybe engage these tribes on improving the writ of the state in NWFP.

Kalsoom said...

Hmmm...while I agree that the tribes have always acted independently of most invading empires, colonizers, etc., that is actually not the reason the model in Iraq has worked - at least so far. The truth of the matter is that Iraqi tribes allied with U.S. forces against Al Qaeda mainly for economic incentives and reasons of power - AQI threatened the tribal structure, esp. in Anbar province, and this was very problematic for tribal sheikhs. Although many were still anti-U.S. they picked the lesser evil (to them) and unified under a common umbrella. Although I am not extremely well-versed on Pakistani tribes, I wonder if providing incentives would be enough to illicit a similar response from the tribal leaders in Pakistan. It would be interesting to gauge just how much public support the taliban has among tribes in the NWFP = is it merely perceived support or something else?