10.02.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Pakistan: Terrorist attack in Peshawar

The words “act of terrorism”, alas, invariably appear in nearly every publication of the New Eastern Outlook on developments in the extremely important (we emphasize, nuclear) country that is modern Pakistan. These acts are a regular occurrence on its territory, and the motive behind each can be traced back to some internal or external aspect of its operations. Although even years later, the fog of varied densities that initially shrouds the “noisy” terrorist strikes (not only in Pakistan, but around the world) does not, as a rule, completely dissipate.

However, the most “horrific” of them all—the attack on January 30 in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which left over 100 people dead and over 200 injured—is the one that most closely embodies the precise definition of the word “terror.” It also applies to the density of the above mentioned fog, because no one has taken responsibility for its completion as of this writing. The initial doubtful information about the involvement of the “Pakistani” Taliban (not to be confused with the “Afghan” Taliban, but both are banned in Russia) in what happened in Peshawar was immediately refuted by its leadership.

There are several “fault lines” of various nature running across Pakistani land, to which we can trace the motives of specific terrorist attacks. Two factors stand out in relation to the “Peshawar” attack. First, it occurred at the so-called Durand Line, which is the de facto (but not de jure) border separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. The “Pakistani” Taliban are fighting (including with weapons) to remove any barriers to communication between Pashtuns living on both sides of the Line. It is opposed by various security agencies in Pakistan, including the police. The explosion occurred in a mosque in the heavily guarded area of a police station in Peshawar. But again, the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban (banned in the Russian Federation) refused to take responsibility.

Another equally important reason remains: the mosque in question belongs to the Shiite minority, which makes up about 5 percent of the entire Muslim community in Pakistan. This is not insignificant, given the combined population of more than 220 million and long-standing (to say the least) sectarian tensions that have often manifested themselves in bombings and shootings at Shiite mosques.

However, in this situation, various “accompanying” points draw notice. First, we reiterate that this attack took place in a heavily guarded area. According to the investigating police, this suggests that the attack was well-planned and that some mosque workers and even the local police may have been involved in its planning and execution. That can be seen in the power of the blast, which is unlikely to have been carried out by a lone suicide bomber. In any case, the police have already arrested more than twenty local suspects.

With all of the above, the question inevitably arises: Who has the “power” to plan and execute an action of this magnitude? And the suspicion that there is an “external” factor in this attack, as in all previous actions seems very appropriate.

The first thing to note comes down to the fact that Sunni (mostly, let’s repeat) Pakistan and Shiite Iran are neighbors. Which so far has not brought any noticeable problems to the relations between them. Moreover, the foreign policy of the current Pakistani government headed by Shehbaz Sharif has recently indicated a general desire to improve the level of existing relations (for example, with Iran and Russia), as well as to restore damaged relations with India and Afghanistan.

Note that with the coming to power in Kabul of “Afghan” Taliban nothing has changed in the long-standing trend of rapprochement of these two countries for reasons which have also been repeatedly discussed in the New Eastern Outlook. In this context, we should consider the above-mentioned initiatives of the Sharif government. In response to which New Delhi, while generally welcoming such an aspiration of the neighbor, says that it would be good to resolve some problems first, for example, those related to “support of terrorism in Kashmir.”

But even amid this kind of turmoil in relations between the two nuclear powers, on January 26 there was a news leak that the current foreign minister of Pakistan Bilawal Zardari (son of Benazir Bhutto, very revered not only by Pakistanis) had received an invitation to visit India. Under the official pretext that the latter will preside over the SCO summit this year.

Just four days later, a huge terrorist incident occurred in a Pakistani city near Afghanistan, which was immediately condemned in India. Which didn’t stop Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who the very next day accused India (though it was done in very general terms and without linking it to this attack) of preparing terrorists to conduct hostile acts “on the territory of Pakistan.” Previously, similar accusations were leveled in relation to the situation in Baluchistan, Pakistan.

It is still unclear to what extent the consequences of the terrorist attack in Peshawar can impair the urgently needed (by almost everyone) establishment and expansion of relations in the India-Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan structure. Among other things, this would make an important contribution to the long-formulated (but still unrealized) project of creating the North-South infrastructure corridor that would connect Russia and India. The importance of the planned “sea” section from the Iranian port of Chabahar to the Indian coast would be greatly reduced. And so would the overall cost of the project as a whole. Incidentally, the Afghan Taliban (banned in Russia) recently offered to provide security for a large section of the (future) corridor.

But it is safe to assume that the prospect of such a project does not please the current world leader. The latter is still in transition from its positioning in the international arena (which is absolutely counterproductive to its own interests) to the status of “one of several” leading world players. Its participation in international affairs could be very constructive in this case, and projects like the one mentioned above would even be useful for it from the point of view of its national interests.

But now things being what they are, it seems the version that the essential elements of the current phase of the “Great World Game” are present in the motivation of the terrorist act in Peshawar has its raison d’être.

Under the guise of the neologism “terrorism,” which was born in the depths of the American special services in the late 1990s and even then was subject to the scathing criticism of the American political community, the United States plunged into the Afghan adventure in 2001. The futility of this endeavor was already clear to Barack Obama, who did most (80%) of the United States’ withdrawal from that country. The current President Joe Biden has done only the last part. Which, however, required a lot of resoluteness…

International actors have used terror as a means of struggle for centuries. It has never been (and is not today) a specific phenomenon in international relations. It is very likely that the attack in Peshawar played an instrumental role.

Both the motives and the direct perpetrator of the “terrorist attack of the century” in the Baltic Sea are more or less clear, which (for some reason) is not at the forefront of current information warfare issues. Although, it definitely merits discussion in the UN Security Council and possibly the establishment of a special international tribunal.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

Related articles: