Wednesday, October 28, 2009




"While the Pakistan Army has prepared itself well for the counter-insurgency style operations in South Waziristan, its ability to prevent attacks behind its back in the NWFP and Punjab is doubtful. Despite the spurt in suicide and commando-style terrorism in the NWFP and Punjab and even in supposedly well-guarded cantonments since the Lal Masjid raid in July,2007, the Pakistani counter-terrorism machinery has not re-fashioned and re-tooled itself to meet this threat. ....There is a danger of the NWFP and Punjab becoming the failed provinces of Pakistan if the Army's offensive does not succeed." ---- Extract from my article of October 17,2009, titled THE PAK ARMY OFFENSIVE IN SOUTH WAZIRISTAN available at

Over 90 innocent civilians----many of them women and children---- were killed in a timed or remotely-controlled car bomb explosion in a busy market area of Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, on October 28,2009. Reports from Peshawar indicate that the car packed with explosives had been left unattended by two men wearing police uniform near a Shia mosque about three hours before the explosion. The unattended car did not attract the suspicion of the policemen on duty in the market area.

2. This has been the second deadliest terrorist strike in Pakistan-----the first being the suicide explosion in Karachi at the time of Benazir Bhutto's return from exile on October 17,2007, in which nearly 180 persons were killed.This has been the deadliest terrorist strike in the history of Peshawar and the third strike this month. The previous two took place on October 9 in which over 50 persons were killed in a suicide explosion in a market place and on October 16 involving 16 fatalities.

3. The local police had claimed to have identified and arrested the ringleaders of the previous incidents. Despite this, the attack of October 28 took place. This calls into question the credibility of the police claim.

4. There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the latest explosion. On the contrary, Pakistani electronic media have quoted alleged sources in Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as denying responsibility and condemning the explosion as the work of anti-Muslim elements.

5.The denials need not necessarily be true. The public outrage over the wanton killings of women and children would have made it unwise for the perpetrators to admit responsibility.

6. The fact that the explosion coincided with the visit of Mrs.Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, to Pakistan, gave the explosion a political colour as meant to express the protest of the perpetrators against the continuing US drone strikes on Al Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs in the tribal belt and against Pakistan's continuing co-operation with the US in counter-terrorism. The current military operations by the Pakistani Army against the Mehsud component of the TTP in South Waziristan is viewed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements as undertaken at the behest of the US.

7. The NWFP is the traditional homeland of the Pashtuns and the cradle of the Pashtun culture. Over the years, it has had pockets of secular thinking and traditions nurtured initially by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, and maintained subsequently by his successors in the Awami National Party (ANP), which has been in power in the province as part of a coalition since the elections of last year. It has also been supporting the ruling coalition in Islamabad and has managed to maintain good relations with President Asif Ali Zardari.

8. In recent months,there have been reports that the US, which in the past kept away from the ANP due to a perception that it was a leftist, pro-communist party, has started interacting with its leaders and inviting some of them to visit the US. The fact that the Pashtun followers of the ANP have remained steadfast in their loyalty to the ANP and its secular ideology and have kept away from the Afghan as well as Pakistani Taliban has been a sore point with the TTP leadership.

9. Despite this, will the TTP target the Pashtun followers of the ANP and indulge in an orgy of killings of Pashtun civilians in Peshawar and other places? The TTP attacks in the Malakand Division, including the Swat Valley, largely targeted the security forces, but in Peshawar the perpetrators have been targeting Pashtun civilians as well as the security forces. There is also an anti-Shia angle to these attacks because the Shia Pashtuns support the ANP, which is seen by them as a protector of the Shias.

10. Sources in the ANP seem to believe that the repeated attacks on civilians in Peshawar are being carried out by elements in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), another Uzbek group, both allied to Al Qaeda. This serves the purpose of discrediting the ANP-led Government in the NWFP and at the same time sparing the TTP of unpopularity for slaughtering innocent Pashtun civilians.

11. What should be of special concern to the US and other members of the international community in the light of the deteriorating situation in the NWFP is the danger of the growing anarchy in the province enabling Al Qaeda to lay hand on Pakistan's nuclear waste stored in the province for being used in a dirty bomb. (29-10-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )