Peshawar, the capital of the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has endured a violent week. Three major terrorist attacks hit the troubled city this week, killing at least 150 people and injuring hundreds of others.
Analysts believe Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) appears to be increasingly divided over the proposed peace talks with the government, and recent attacks are an outcome of those differences.
Two bombs went off in the busy Qissa Khwani Bazaar near a police station on September 29, killing more than 42 people and injuring more than 100, razing buildings and setting shops and cars ablaze. On September 27, a bomb hit a bus carrying government employees at Gulbela village on the Peshawar-Charsadda Road, killing 18 people. A twin suicide attack at a Peshawar Church on September 22 killed more than 82 people.
“We have information that the Swat and Mohmand chapters of TTP are against the proposed peace talks with the government,” said Majeed Babar Khan, a Prague-based journalist working with Mashaal Radio of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (REFRL). He said there was a heated argument in a recent Taliban meeting. Umar Khalid Khorasani, the chief of TTP’s Mohmand Agency chapter, said in a September 27 statement that his faction demanded a rewriting of Pakistan’s Constitution. Pakistan Army says talks with militants must remain within the ambit of the Constitution. “We will not budge an inch from our demand. We will withdraw support from any Taliban commander who compromises on this demand,” Khorasani said.
The Swat chapter of TTP released a video recently, of the September 15 killing of Swat’s top military commander Major General Sanaullah Niazi and his two comrades in a bomb attack in Upper Dir. “We are against the proposed peace talks without fulfilling our demand of enforcing Sharia in the entire country, especially in the Malakand division,” a militant leader loyal to TTP Malakand chief Mullah Fazlullah had said.
“The attacks show that the Taliban are dictating their terms,” said Abdul Basit, a security analyst associated with Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR). He said the proposal of peace talks does not include any specifics as to what the terms of the talks would be. “This open-ended and unconditional offer has made the entire peace process vague and weak. Amid this spineless stance by the political parties, militant groups have carried out attacks in Peshawar to up the ante,” he said.
The attacks have also raised concern about the government’s ability to ensure security, and indicate that the Taliban may be regrouping in the provincial capital. Hassan Buneri, a provincial leader of National Youth Organization (NYO), is critical of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan for suggesting opening a Taliban office to facilitate talks with them. He says PTI’s soft stance towards the Taliban emboldens and strengthens them.
“Taliban militants were facing resistance in the suburban areas of Peshawar, including Adezai, Matani and Badaber, and they could not enter the city,” he said. “But since the PTI came in government, the province has provided them an opportunity to re-organize their network in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”
PTI leaders insist that the attacks have been carried out by forces that want to sabotage the talks, but fail to say who those forces are. “The TTP has denied involvement in the recent attacks,” said a legislator from Swat. “It seems it is a conspiracy by some anti-peace elements to destroy the government’s efforts to engage the Taliban in talks.”
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