Monday, April 5, 2010

Peshawar attacked, yet again

Peshawar has came under attack by the militants yet again. The Sunni extremists in Pakistan, mostly Pushtuns, are reportedly behind the attack on the American Consulate in Peshawar. The death toll has surprisingly be low: eight are confirmed dead. It has been reported that no American has been harmed in the attack.

A few hours earlier, an attack on a rally by the secular Awami National Party (ANP) in Timirgira left 43 civilians dead. The rally was called by the ANP to celebrate renaming of the Frontier Province to Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The Sunni extremists, though Pushtuns, no longer see themselves as Pushtuns and are allying themselves, culturally and ideologically with the Arabs. Why else would not every Pushtun in Pakistan celebrate the new name of the province that acknowledges the Pushtun heritage of the Frontier Province.

Months earlier, the Pakistani Taliban attacked the headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which was located in the same neighbourhood as the American Consulate. The attack in November 2009 killed scores of intelligence officials while completely destroying the ISI’s headquarters in Peshawar. The US Consulate, on the other hand, has been well-protected against such attacks. Apart from a collapsed boundary wall, not much damage has been reported to the Consulate’s infrastructure.

The battles on the streets of Peshawar are now being televised throughout the world. The veracity and frequency of the attacks has increased tremendously in the past few years, suggesting to some that the violence in Pakistan may not secede for decades to come. 

These pessimistic outlooks about Peshawar and Pakistan could have been avoided had there been a proactive response to the Pushtun-led the sectarian violence in Pakistan. While the global attention was focused elsewhere, the Pushtun tribesmen routinely attacked these Shiite minority in Pakistan, especially in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.  In the summer of 1992, while a student at the Engineering University in Peshawar,  I witnessed one such attack on the Shiites of Peshawar when hundreds of tribesmen landed in the valley killing Shiites, destroying their businesses, and desecrating their graveyards by blowing up graves with grenades. 

Similarly, the attacks on the Shiites in Parachinar (Kurrum Agency) have gone unabated over the past few decades.  Only last week, six Shiite drivers of a truck convoy carrying a essential supplies to the Shiites of Parachinar were killed by the Sunni Pushtun extremists.  Parachinar, a town of 20,000 Pushtun Shiites in the tribal areas of Pakistan adjacent to the Afghan border,  has been under siege from the Pushtun extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The supply of food, medical supplies, and electricity has remained suspended to the town for over three years. The Wazir tribesmen, followers of the Deobandi school of Islam, block all access to Parachinar from settled areas of Pakistan. The Wahabi inspired Pushtuns do the same from the Afghan side of the border.

If the above were isolated incidents, one could have not been so firm in holding Pushtun extremists responsible for the indiscriminate violence that plagues Pakistan today.  However, the past few decades of Sunni extremist violence in Pakistan against the Shiites, which has been as frequent and bloody as the one observed lately in Iraq, deserved the immediate attention of the authorities in Pakistan, as well as that of the international law enforcing agencies. 

Had the Pushtun extremist been checked earlier, the world, and of course Pakistan, could have been a safer place. However, with the trigger-happy American forces killing civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is not just the militants who are peeved, to put it mildly, at the Americans. The more the “collateral damage”, the more the suicide bombers. Pakistan just happens to be the epicentre of this bloody arithmetic between the Americans and the Sunni extremists.

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