‘Amid an economic crisis, the Pakistan army cannot carry out a sustained war against the TTP, which may trigger more suicide blasts in the country’.
New Delhi: For long, the city of Peshawar that lies in North-West Pakistan, has witnessed numerous violent developments, from the time of the 8th century when “Hindu Shahi”—a non-Muslim dynasty that ruled the region and lost to Mahmud Ghazni in November 1001—to the battle between Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Pathan king Azim Khan in March 1823 during the battle of Nowshera.
From the 1960s and till 2010, Peshawar acted as an important listening center for American agents working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to gather intelligence in tandem with the ShalwarKameezcladsleuths of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, on the events taking place in the region, especially in Afghanistan.
On Monday, 2 pm IST, the city’s long list of violent events grew longer as a suicide bomber—who managed to enter a mosque that is located in a highly fortified area in the police lines which houses multiple security establishments—blew himself up as the prayers, in which 300 people, mostly policemen, were present, had begun.
Atleast 100 were killed and more than 200 injured in the deadly attack, which is likely to emerge as a watershed event in the decade long bloody fight between the Pakistan security forces and the Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
According to Af-Pak-based sources, the name of the bomber was Huzifa. The Pakistan government is yet to release details of the bomber, whose head was recovered from the bombing site. The mosque is 45 km from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as the crow flies.Less than two hours after the attack, the now deleted Twitter handle of Umar MukaramKhorasani, a TTP commander of the Mohmand district, Peshawar Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stated that “the attack inside the Peshawar police line is the fourth suicide attack in the series of operation launched as a revenge for the martyred Khalid Khorasani by his followers. We will speed up the series of these blessed actions”. The same was retweeted by SarbakafMohmand, another TTP commander whose area of operations is Zhob, Balochistan, and a close associate of Khalid Khorasani and also by ZaheedSaifi, brother of Khalid Khorasani. The person, whom they were referring to in their tweets was former TTP commander Khalid Khorasani who was assassinated in a roadside blast along with three other leaders of the said group in eastern Afghanistan on the night of 7 August in a “task”, that the TTP insiders claim, was a handiwork of the ISI.
However, the next day, on 31 January, Mohammad Khursani, the spokesperson of the TTP released a statement stating that TTP had nothing to do with the Peshawar mosque blast. “According to our laws and general constitution, any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral homes and other sacred places is an impeachable offence,” the spokesperson said. As a practice, the TTP always claims responsibility for the acts that it executes.
The same was also reiterated to The Sunday Guardian by a top TTP source on Thursday who said that the said suicide attack was carried out by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and not by the TTP.While the TTP has strongly denied its involvement in the blast, the fact that it was claimed by one of TTP’s top commanders has strengthened the perception that it indeed was carried out by a TTP member.
As an expected response to this blast, vociferous calls from within the media and civil society members of Pakistan are being raised to carry out an all-out military operation against the TTP, which the Pakistan army claims is based inside Afghanistan and is getting the support of the Taliban government that is ruling Kabul. This claim has been denied by both the TTP and the Taliban.
According to former and present TTP leaders, Umar MukaramKhorasani, who was earlier a close associate of Khalid Khorasani, is right now leading the erstwhile “Jamat-ul-Ahrar” faction of the TTP that operates from Mohmand.Umar, who succeeded Khalid, was recently made a member of the all-important exclusive Central Shura (Council) of the TTP, a body that takes important decisions and is headed by its chief Noor WaliMehsud. Khalid Khorasani was, like the recently appointed Umar, a member of the Shura before he was killed.
“Umar MukaranKhorasani is following the footsteps of his predecessor, Khalid Khorasani, who was a hardliner and was among the leaders who was not in favour of engaging in ceasefire talks with the Pakistan military establishment as he never trusted them and always said that the army will never uphold the promises that it will make to arrive at the ceasefire,” former TTP spokesperson, EhsanullahEhsan, told The Sunday Guardian.
The 37-year-old Umar, according to Ehsan, belongs to the Dawlatzai tribe (Pashtun) and was born in MohmandAgency.He has completed his class 10 from government higher secondary school, Lakaray, Saifi. He started his “career” in Jihad under the tutelage of Khalid Khorasani. In 2008, he was appointed as the security chief of Khalid and then moved on to become his personal secretary.
“Later, he became the head of TTP’s intelligence wing. In 2017, he announced that he was forming Hizbul-Al-Aharar, which was later merged with TTP. In June 2021, he was appointed as the Governor for Peshawar division. In March 2022, hewas appointed as the Governor of Kohat division. And after the death of Khalid, he was appointed as his successor. He has commanded several operations in Pakistan and is known for having a sharp military mind,” Ehsan said.
The blast, and the subsequent tweets by a Twitter account that was purportedly being operated by Umar is likely to push the Pakistan establishment to take the step that they have been reluctant to do until now due to multiple reasons—of launching a massive armed military operation against the TTP, during which they are likely to face a situation where they will have to decide on whether to enter Afghanistan or not.
The Pakistan military leadership is also worried about the series of Peshawar-like blasts that the TTP is likely to carry out once the military starts its all-out operation against them. And this is just one problem. Commanders in GHQ, Rawalpindi, have also to take the expected military response from the Taliban into consideration as the TTP cadre is likely to move into Afghanistan.
“There are no easy options on the table for the Pakistan army right now. If it declares a military operation against them, the TTP is likely to carry out series of suicide bombings in the country. Right now, the TTP has limited itself to carrying out armed attacks against the security forces only. Secondly, the economic and political situation of the country is fragile and they are not in a position to carry out a long sustained war. A lot will depend on how much support GHQ will get from the US State department,” an official source told The Sunday Guardian.