In the second attack on Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman within 24 hours, at least 13 people were killed and more than 31 injured, while the Maulana remained unhurt as a suicide bomber blew himself up next to the leader’s convoy vehicle in Charsadda district on Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a JUI-F rally in Swabi district which killed 10 people.
The Maulana blamed external forces for the attack and told the media that unidentified men shot at his vehicle during Thursday’s suicide attack. He said there were forces who wished that he aligned himself with American policies. However, analysts say that the attack could have come from the Taliban or rivals closer home. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, meanwhile, clarified that there had been no security lapse and that Maulana Fazl had been advised not to take out rallies.
Witnesses told The Express Tribune that the assailants targeted the pilot vehicle of the JUI-F leader’s security retinue. Mirza Ali Shah, a member of the Elite police force, told The Express Tribune from his bed at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) that he had joined the convoy at Charsadda interchange of the motorway and around 20 motorcyclists were following them at the time.
“When we entered the Charsadda Bazaar, a blast hit our vehicle and I do not remember anything after that,” Shah said. He said that around four squad vehicles were following Fazlur Rehman’s s convoy when the attack took place, adding that the JUI-F chief’s vehicle was around 40-50 yards behind.
Sirajul Haq, another eyewitness, said that heavy firing also ensued as the blast went off. He said that it was not clear who resorted to firing or whether it was the JUI leader’s guards that opened fire. The dead include two police personnel and women.
Maulana Fazl was on his way to address a public meeting in Darul Uloom Islamia at Charsadda. The attack took place in the Nowshera Road area of Charsadda district close to the District Coordination Officer’s (DCO) office.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters at the scene of the attack that Maulana Fazl was the target. The blast also damaged shops and homes in the nearby areas, besides a private school. Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) officials said that around eight kilograms of explosives were packed in the explosive vest.
Some of the injured were rushed to the LRH hospital. LRH Chief Executive Dr Abdul Hameed Afridi told The Express Tribune that at least 13 injured and dead were brought to the LRH. Four of the injured are in a serious condition.
Meanwhile, a rival group of the JUI-F is of the firm belief that the second attempt on the life of Maulana Fazl was the result of “duplicity” of the party chief in national politics.
“The two attempts on the JUI-F Ameer are the result of his five-year backing of General Musharraf and three years’ support of the PPP government,” said Maulana Khalil Ahmed Mukhlis and Najeem Khan Advocate, the provincial president and deputy secretary general of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Ideology group).The JUI Ideology group came into being during the 2008 elections.
“Maulana Fazlur Rehman is aware that the Taliban in Pakistan are also bitterly against his policies and on the US-led war on terror,” said another leader requesting anonymity.
The Taliban’s unbearable pressure had forced the chief of his own faction of JUI to pull out his two nominees from the federal cabinet in December last year, he said. Maulana Fazl, however, continued as the Chairman of the Kashmir Committee.
He has a large following mainly drawn from the students studying in seminaries of the Deobandi school of thought in almost all parts of the country. However, there is no dearth of people who oppose his politics and the way he does it, say observers.
He is also dubbed a Taliban sympathiser by many in the media and general public. Maulana also earned the title of “Mulla Diesel” after allegedly helping in issuing fuel permits to the Taliban regime of Afghanistan in the 90s.
Professor Khadim Hussain, analyst and head of Baacha Khan Education Foundation (BKTEF) said that these attacks could be viewed in two different perspectives. First could be internal dynamics of the militancy, Khadim told The Express Tribune.
Khadim said that many in KPK say that these attacks could also have a political angle, as the ANP and PPP have built a large power base after fighting militancy in this region and now, to gain sympathies, such attacks are being orchestrated.
President Asif Ali Zardari telephoned Maulana Fazl and condemned the attack on his convoy.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2011.