Peshawar church attack and its implications

Published: September 24, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

Let’s first get rid of a brazen lie, fed to us by the unholy beards — i.e., Muslims cannot commit atrocities because Islam forbids them from doing so. The fact is, Muslims can and they have committed terrible atrocities in spite of Islam’s teachings, just like peoples of other faiths and denominations. There’s theory and there is praxis, and while East and West can meet ‘when two strong men stand face to face’, this twain normally diverge.

This lie should therefore be dumped, buried deep. The reason is simple: it is meant to obfuscate the facts. It helps create straw men. It allows non sequiturs to choreograph our lives. It prevents us from self-correction. It keeps us in the poisonous bubble. It sustains, as society’s leaders and deliverers, the very charlatans responsible for putting us in a deep hole. It perpetuates our sundry grotesqueries and villainies and mires us even deeper in our theological buffooneries.

If this bucket list of vices is not enough for us to think anew, I don’t know what is.

So, this is how it goes: Muslims are fully capable of attacking a church and killing innocent Pakistanis, just like Christians, when they fought their battles of faith, destroyed churches and burned heretics. Man, with the ability to go beyond his immediate needs, is capable of both Divine compassion and extreme cruelty. If we don’t accept that there are people and groups in this country, perfectly normal on a dull day, who can commit unspeakable atrocities the next day, we are either in need of a brain transplant or are plain, shameless liars. To state it clearly, we are infested with both types.

Now to the Peshawar church attack itself. Who did it?

The immediate reaction was, and remains, that the self-styled Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — a franchise which has linkages with several extremist-terrorist groups across Pakistan — is responsible. But so far the TTP’s spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid has not spoken to any of the reporters he normally would call up to claim responsibility. Why?

There’s another issue here. The TTP has tried hard, through its terror attacks, to make political space for itself. The current governments at the Centre and in K-P are very interested in talking to the TTP and convened an APC to that end. Strategically speaking, it does not make sense for the TTP to lose its hard-won gains by mounting such a gratuitous attack on a soft target.

This is neither to suggest that the TTP is fastidious about who it kills or how or even that it hasn’t killed mercilessly in the past. It has done both. But the timing is just not right. Consider.

The TTP, while it has a core — call it the HQ — that seeks to coordinate action by its various affiliates, does not have a solid, central command structure. Just like al Qaeda (AQ) which is constrained to grant a degree of autonomy to its local affiliates around the world until they continue to serve the larger AQ agenda, the TTP does the same.

Corollary: oft, it has to look the other way when groups choose and engage a target that the franchise HQ would rather they had not engaged. It gets into operational and PR problems when that happens. However, since the affiliate groups are useful, the TTP has to do a cost-benefit analysis and if the group’s usefulness outweighs the damage its actions have done, the TTP would generally take responsibility after the affiliate group has claimed it. In more extreme cases, the TTP will remain quiet while responsibility is claimed by its affiliate.

A good example of the loose arrangement is the Asmatullah Muaviya group. Muaviya, commander of the Punjabi Taliban linked to the TTP and serving as an AQ company commander, was expelled by the TTP for welcoming the talks offer by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government. His expulsion was widely reported and was also confirmed by Shahidullah Shahid. However, Muaviya hit back at the TTP by telling the media that the TTP had no authority to expel him and he was not under its command because the Punjabi Taliban movement was independent of the TTP.

The church attack has been claimed by Jundallah, with their spokesperson Ahmed Marwat coming on record. Some sources also point to Jundul Hafsa, led by Muaviya but no one has ‘officially’ heard from them. The primary targets of both groups have been Shias and Imambargahs, though they have also carried out attacks on foreigners (Nanga Parbat; Jundul Hafsa) and the Sukkur ISI detachment (Jundallah).

It doesn’t make sense for Jundul Hafsa to mount this attack either, given Muaviya’s approach to the talks offer. That leaves us with the only group that has claimed responsibility, Jundallah. In my programme two nights ago, Brig Asad Munir (retd), who also writes for this newspaper, said he was convinced the attack was carried out by Jundallah. I agree.

This has implications. While my views on talking to the Taliban are clear, if the foregoing is any indication, there are rifts within the larger collection of these scums on the issue of talking. Muaviya is one and while he was ‘expelled’ by the TTP for reacting positively to the talks offer, the TTP itself seems to be getting more serious about it. If, in theory, the talks can be started and do not scuttle at the very outset, given the extremists’ extremism, the ruptures could be exploited by the state. Jundallah’s act is very clear in its message: we do not want talks. The question is: is that also what other groups want, to continue with their violence?

If not, will the franchise HQ leash such groups by killing, if necessary? Or will they help the state nab the perpetrators of this attack by providing intelligence on their whereabouts? If the state has done some homework and not just expressed the intention to talk, this is the time to test the ‘sincerity’ of those who want to talk. And nothing will prove sincerity more than punishing the groups that don’t want to talk.

At the same time, this should also make the state realise the fractured nature of the threat. Lesson: do talk but do not compromise on the capability to put these groups down.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th,  2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Faraz Kakar
    Sep 24, 2013 - 10:55PM

    Sane advice.


  • Fahad
    Sep 25, 2013 - 12:25AM

    Finally some solution oriented analysis… instead of saying “Hey Lets bash PTI, even if they are not a part of federal govt” … but PTI-led KPK govt should have revamped the security to the max…


  • Liaqat Ali
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:15AM

    Callous as it sounds at first glance this is great advice. A couple of questions; is the State capable of responding and will they hear this advice? Basic rule of negotiations trust but verify. Lets verify the TTP’s seriousness to negotiate in good faith.


  • aqib
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:15AM

    An article finally, which truly analyzes the intricacies (unlike the article recently used for incitement)of the situation-rather than blaming everything on who else but Imran khan.


  • Usman S.
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:50AM

    On truly hopes this great advice does not fall on deaf ears.


  • Ahson
    Sep 25, 2013 - 5:39AM

    Awesome piece! I’m really pleased to read Ejaz Haider’s comments and, for once, feel optimistic that amidst all the chaos and the blatant butchering of morals and values, there are still saner elements, outspoken enough to open the eyes and minds of a parochial minded society. Fundamentalism is scourge, a cancer that eats away the very roots of a society. The mullahs have exploited the name of religion for far too long for their own political and economic gains. I’m truly against power hungry, arm twisting ‘religious’ values, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Look at what has happened and what is happening around us – people killing people in the name of religion, trying to prove that their god is better then someone else’s god in an effort to judge others. Has Almighty given us the right to judge others in such a horrendous manner? Does G-d talks to these terrible people?

    In any event, kudos to Ejaz for a brilliant article!Recommend

  • Iron hand
    Sep 25, 2013 - 8:06AM

    The first four paragraphs of this article should be required reading for every Pakistani.


  • Arifq
    Sep 25, 2013 - 9:35AM

    Ejaz Sahib, lets assume there was no offer of negotiations from the Government what would have been TTP reaction to the Peshawar church attack? Going by their historical record, it would have been acclaimed as a great victory by “their” soldiers. Point being Sir, we are dealing with hard core zealots, even terrorist need time to regroup and form strategy.


  • Rustam
    Sep 25, 2013 - 12:58PM

    This selective targeting of Talibans has been the achilles heels in the army operation against Taliban. We segregate them in good and bad Taliban but they are united among each other. And that has been the killing factor. Mt Ejaz is arguing in favor of the same flawed policy.


  • tanu
    Sep 25, 2013 - 3:38PM

    Truth hurts mere bhai! Only ten observations on Ejaj Haiders Oped today! introspection on what he says should be the first step.


  • Taimur
    Sep 25, 2013 - 3:49PM

    Great Piece. Love the opening lines. Next you need to look at the “capability to put these groups down” objectively also. Do we really have it or is that also a myth?


  • Z.Khan
    Sep 25, 2013 - 4:02PM

    Good piece of writing. Rightly said Muslims can commit any thing but of course not Islam is to be blamed. Following of true and correctly interpreted teachings do not permit such acts and this fact should be known. Most of the blame goes to those who interpret Islamic teachings fitting to their own understanding of the religion.
    In spite of all the dangers propose talk should be given a chance. However one more aspect needs probe. In case these talks get progress whose self vested interest will be jeopardized. This aspect also needs analysis. Recommend

  • Atif Salahuddin
    Sep 25, 2013 - 4:20PM

    Actually Muslims are past the point in believing that some Muslims can’t cause harm to others. The leaders of Pakistan are Muslim and look at the collective harm they have caused to Pakistan’s people with their failed and corrupt rule!

    This article makes several assumptions. The first is that this group Junduallah actually exists and carried out the attack. What proof is there for this? Citing a telephone call is no proof in itself and its not exactly as if this group recently carried out a post event press conference where one could actually question their leadership. There are various actors who have a strong motive to encourage or draw in the Pakistan military into further operations in the tribal areas not least the US. As the author tries to examine motives he completely ignores the broader context of this reality.

    This brings us to a second broader and underlying assumption. Recently the Washington Post reported that the US is carrying out massive intelligence operations in Pakistan, using the advantage of the Afghan border. Ejaz Haider or any other serious commentator have completely failed to analyse this situation and possible US motives in inflaming the situation. The US faces an enormous public relations battle in Pakistan, trying to frame others is completely in its interests and a real possibility as it struggles with its Afghanistan occupation.

    Unfortunately after the Raymond Davis incident the hard questions that needed to be asked never happened nor was a parliamentary or judicial inquiry ever set up let alone a suo moto action undertaken by our otherwise hyperactive Chief Justice. How did Raymond Davis get inside Pakistan? Was this incident a one off or was authorisation of CIA operations permitted at the highest levels of the Pakistani government? Is the CIA still active inside Pakistan? We never have obtained the answers to these questions which are in the minds of many. Instead all was forgiven and everything conveniently swept under the carpet. Until we have answers to questions such as these we will continue to face heinous crimes such as the Peshawar Church blast.


  • Irfan
    Sep 25, 2013 - 5:00PM

    wonderful article. as always to the point, correctly analysing the situation.


  • Maulana Tharra
    Sep 25, 2013 - 5:59PM

    Of course no one knows who finances, controls Jundullah and who’s cause it is serving!


  • Usman Waraich
    Sep 25, 2013 - 6:59PM

    Agree with the approach…but who is going to do it. The Taliban apologists ???, who after expressing concern and solidarity with the Christian community always followed it up with a “but”….

    I do not think that GOP will get (if at all they are asking for it), that token of sincerity to talks from TTP by exposing the Jundallah’s soldiers….

    To be honest, I do not think TTP is worried about any domestic repercussions of this act. We in Pakistan have a big heart, we get all sentimental for 2 to 3 days and then we move on. The people who are appalled at the atrocity are the same who get appalled when similar atrocities occur with other denominations as well. The media, and the politicians all have the same apologist approach. It does put a lot of pressure on the government to yield to TTP. One wonders why this time round there was so much anxiety to condemn and lament the loss, while we forgot the incidents of Joseph colony and the Ahmadi mosque atrocity of Lahore in no time. One can only think that these two back to back incidents(Gen Sanaullah & Church), coming at the heels of the much touted and unanimous APC was an extremely damaging and unexpected development. Secondly, the GOP was worried about the international reaction especially when PM was in the UN meeting other foreign dignitaries. This is no Joseph colony, but a church and as a result, the powerful Vatican also gets involved and this brings uncomfortable questions for our otherwise simple minded PM.

    The comments that Muslims have also had attacks on their places of worship so it is kind of OK if that happens to Christians or Ahmedi’s is ill founded. The people of Pakistan have decided that these denominations are not equal to them for the purpose of law and constitution and therefore it is responsibility of the state to ensure that these groups are protected even if they have to be protected at the cost of the majority. That is the underlying social contract if the majority seeks to reserve opportunities for it self.


  • Hedgefunder
    Sep 26, 2013 - 1:24AM

    Its implications should be very simple ! Stop all Aid from Western Christian Nations, as this Country simply does not deserve it !
    Not that its Muslim brothers also have any will to assist in any fashion, yet this Nation simply does not learn.
    One only has view its progress in any form since its inception !
    Its not a good reading.
    A genuine failed state with nuclear weapons, yet lacks basic infrastructure, healthcare, law & order, education or even 24/7 electricity !
    It speaks volume for their ability for their Nationhood !


  • Sep 26, 2013 - 8:27AM

    To say other Religions have Religious violence, hence we are also the same is true upto one point.

    Communal violence and Religion inspired violence are totally different. What we see in the Islamic world is the Religion inspired violence.

    If not why did 9/11 happen? Why are Islamic states bent on punishing anyone who propagates their Religion, if its not Islam?

    To fight for resources and control and power is one thing. But, to wage war for ideology and nothing but ideology is another.

    Until this is accepted, the Islamic world will remain in turmoil.


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