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Peshawar Taliban Attacks: Vengeance or Instability?

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The Pulse

Peshawar Taliban Attacks: Vengeance or Instability?

The worst-ever terrorist attack hit Peshawar on Sunday, further offsetting any chance for peace.

A three-year-old girl was wounded among a dozen other children in the recent double suicide attack at the historic All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A total of 85 people, including women and children, were killed in the blasts and more than 100 were injured on Sunday, in what was the deadliest attack on the minority Christian community in Pakistan's history. The death toll is still rising.

Two militants wearing explosive vests who had entered the church camouflaged along with about 700 other worshipers carried out the attack.

Jandullah, a group allied with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was carried out in retaliation of the drone strikes. "Until drone strikes are stopped, we will continue with this. Consider this the first of our actions," said Ahmed Marwat, a militant commander of Jandullah. "Whoever is non-Muslim will be targeted."

Speaking through an intermediary, a militant associated with Jandullah told The Diplomat, “The new targets of many of our future attacks will be Christians and non-Muslims. Since the U.S. continues to carry out their drone strikes, we will now largely target the Christians in retaliation.”

This is a significant statement in the light of an already hostile environment towards Christians in Pakistan.

Christians have recently been the focus of targeted violence and attacks by many right-wing militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and their al Qaeda-affiliated allies. Over the past few years there have been various incidents in which Christian communities have been targeted. Sunday’s blast was Peshawar’s 210th in the last five years, in which thousands of innocent people in Peshawar have been killed by multiple terrorist groups.

Thousands, from the Minister of minorities and government officials to soldiers, secular politicians and citizens have been targeted in multiple incidents that have included the burning of hundreds of homes in different Christian colonies in different cities of Pakistan. The violence that engulfed Joseph Colony was a prime example.

"This is the most horrible attack I have ever come across," Arshad Javed, chief executive of the Lady Readings Hospital, told The Diplomat. Lady Readings is Peshawar's central emergency hospital where most blast victims are taken.

Jandullah’s ominous public statement suggests things could get really bad in the future. Worryingly, local officials and Taliban commanders in the South Waziristan tribal region reported on the day of the attack that a U.S. drone strike killed six militants and injured four in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan. 

Additionally, a statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that further drone strikes would damage relations with the U.S. "These drone strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region," the ministry said in a public statement.

Sunday’s terrorist attack took place at a time when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in discussions about plans to open peace talks with the Taliban. The process of initiating negotiations has been daunting for Sharif as the Taliban has laid out a series of difficult prerequisites. Further, just days earlier an army general involved in these negotiations on behalf of the PM was killed, dampening any remaining optimism.

Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf political party and the strongest proponent of peace talks, made a public statement during his visit to the Lady Readings Hospital, saying, "Isn't it strange that whenever peace talks [are] pursued, these attacks take place, and I want to point out that there was also a drone strike today." 

Khan, who is also a staunch opponent of the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, condemned the attack and suggested it was aimed at disrupting the effort to initiate peace talks. He added, "An attempt is being made to keep Pakistan in the strife that it has suffered for the last nine years."

Kiran Nazish is a Pakistani-based columnist for The Pulse and a correspondent for LaStampa. Follow her on twitter @kirannazish.