Deadly suicide bombing at Peshawar mosque: How the Taliban has returned to haunt Pakistan

Over 30 people died and 150 were wounded, mostly police officers, as a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded mosque in Peshawar. The attack on security forces by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants have increased since the group ended the ceasefire last November

FP Explainers January 30, 2023 18:45:27 IST
Deadly suicide bombing at Peshawar mosque: How the Taliban has returned to haunt Pakistan

More than 30 people died and 150 wounded in a suicide bombing carried out by the TTP. AP

At least 34 people died and 150 were injured, mostly police officers, after a suicide bomber blew himself up on Monday (30 January) during prayers at a mosque in Pakistan’s northwestern Peshawar city. 

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed the responsibility for the attack on Twitter, as per Associated Press (AP). 

Over 300 worshippers were praying inside the mosque in the Police Lines area when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest. 

The bombing in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which has a strong presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in Pakistan in recent years.

Earlier in January, three police officers were killed by a group of heavily-armed TTP militants in Peshawar when they attacked a police station. 

The militant attacks on security forces have ramped up since the TTP ended the ceasefire with the government in November last year. 

Let’s take a look at the TTP’s earlier warnings, its brief history, and how it has again become a headache for Pakistan since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021.

TTP’s earlier warnings

On 4 January, the TTP threatened to target the top leaders of the ruling coalition in Pakistan if the government continued its tough measures against them.

In a warning to prime minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the banned group said in a statement, “If these two parties remain firm on their position and continue to be slaves of the army, then action will be taken against their leading people”.

In early January, Pakistan’s defence minister claimed Afghanistan’s soil is being used by militant groups to launch attacks on his country, evoking a sharp response from the Taliban government in Kabul.

“We have spoken to Afghanistan government and we will keep saying that … their soil is being used for cross-border terrorism,” Khwaja Asif said, as per Al Jazeera.

The remarks were made on the same day as a war of words broke out between Pakistan and the Taliban after Islamabad threatened to attack the TTP hideouts in Afghanistan.

Reacting to Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah’s statement on acting against “insurgents’ hideouts” in Afghanistan, Ahmad Yasir, a member of the Taliban, tweeted referring to Turkey’s bombing of Kurds in Syria that Afghanistan was not Syria, nor Pakistan Turkey.

“This is Afghanistan, the graveyard of proud empires. Do not think of a military attack on us, otherwise, there will be a shameful repetition of the military agreement with India.”

The tweet also consisted of a picture showing the then Pakistan Army commander in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi signing the “Instrument of Surrender” in Dhaka. Pakistan had surrendered to India in the 1971 war that led to the creation of a new nation, Bangladesh.

Soon after, Pakistan’s National Security Council which was in a two-day huddle to discuss how to handle the threat from TTP and other issues put out a strong statement.

“No country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists and Pakistan reserves all rights in that respect to safeguard her people,” it said without naming any nation, as per Indian Express.

“Pakistan’s security is uncompromisable and the full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of Pakistan’s territory,” the statement further stated.

Taliban has called Islamabad’s recent statements “provocative and baseless”, saying its government is “trying its best that the territory of Afghanistan is not used against Pakistan or any other country”, reported Al Jazeera. 

A brief history of TTP

“Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the largest militant organisation fighting against the state in Pakistan,” says Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, US-based nonpartisan international affairs think tank.

TTP also has several thousand fighters in Afghanistan, as per the UN.

The think tank says TTP is a “by-product of the intra-jihadi politics” that took place following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.

The armed group came into existence in 2007, claiming to be “an extension” of the Afghan Taliban, notes the think tank.

The Afghan Taliban has become a “natural political and organisational model” for the TTP over the years due to which the latter is also known as Pakistani Taliban.

TTP’s aim is to implement its interpretation of Sharia in Pakistan, especially in the tribal areas.

“Though the TTP framed its militant campaign as a defensive war against Pakistan’s military operations, the group hoped to follow in the Afghan Taliban’s footsteps and establish a sharia system in Pakistan, freeing the country from the “American stooges” who supposedly governed it,” Abdul Sayed, a specialist on the politics and security of Afghanistan and Pakistan, wrote for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2021.

The group is also seeking to reverse the merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

What made the Pakistani Army go after TTP?

It was the TTP’s attack on Army Public school in Peshawar that triggered Pakistan Army’s “most serious operation” against the group, says Indian Express.

Heavily armed Pakistani Taliban fighters attacked the school, on 16 December 2014, killing 150 people, of whom at least 134 were students.

Deadly suicide bombing at Peshawar mosque How the Taliban has returned to haunt Pakistan

TTP attacked an army school in Peshawar in 2014. AFP File Photo

As per Pakistan Army, all seven militants involved in the attack were killed.

Many TTP leaders and fighters fled to Afghanistan at the time.

TTP’s resurgence in Pakistan

Since the Taliban’s Kabul takeover, the TTP has once again become active in the north-west tribal areas of Pakistan, part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as per the Indian Express report.

Last year alone, TTP was responsible for over 150 attacks across Pakistan that killed dozens, Al Jazeera report said citing Pakistan’s monitoring agencies.

On 28 November 2022, TTP’s defense chief Mufti Muzahim had announced the end of the ceasefire with Pakistan and called for nationwide attacks.

Attacks have intensified since then, including a suicide bombing in Islamabad that killed a police officer.

Deadly suicide bombing at Peshawar mosque How the Taliban has returned to haunt Pakistan

TTP has links to the Afghan Taliban. AP File Photo

In December, the TTP held policemen and army officials hostage after seizing control of a counterterrorism facility in Bannu, located just outside North Waziristan – a tribal-dominated district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

After talks failed, the Pakistani Army launched an operation that resulted in the death of 33 TTP fighters and two Special Service Group commandos.

Last December was the deadliest month in the country with Pakistan security forces losing 40 personnel in attacks.

“The year 2022 ended with the deadliest month (thus far) for Pakistan’s security personnel over a decade, with the emergence of a new terror triad comprising TTP, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Daesh-Afghanistan as the biggest threat to the country,” ANI reported citing Islamabad-based think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies’ (CRSS), annual report.

The KP province reported a major rise in violence where fatalities increased by 108 per cent, the report said.

Meanwhile, the US has offered to help Pakistan in tackling the terror threat posed by the TTP.

Pakistan has always made the distinction between “good” and “bad” Taliban — Afghan Taliban falling in the former and TTP in the latter category. Now as the two are on the same side, Pakistan seems to be “caught in a contradiction of its own making”, says Indian Express. 

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan had hailed the Taliban taking over Kabul in August 2021. But things have changed since then.

Now, not everything is peachy between the Shehbaz Sharif-led Pakistan government and Taliban-led Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban have had a falling out over their differences on the Durand Line.

In December 2022, clashes between Taliban fighters and Pakistani forces were reported at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing.

Tensions have also increased between the two sides since the killing of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in July 2022 by the United States. Questions have erupted over Pakistan’s role in the incident.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister in the Kabul regime, is believed to be sheltering the TTP in south-eastern Afghanistan, as per the Indian Express report. Antonio Guistozzi, a long-time Haqqani and TTP watcher, says TTP is being used by the Afghan minister as “leverage” against Pakistan, the report added.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a senior fellow at the Department of War Studies at London’s King’s College, wrote for ThePrint, “The Haqqani network, or the larger Taliban, although they do not blame Pakistan for having a hand in the incident, suspect that the Americans used Pakistan’s air space for the drone attack.”

With inputs from agencies

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