Two horrifying terror attacks on the same day demonstrate that current strategy against the Taliban isn’t working. It’s time to do something about it.
January 20 was a bloody day for Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the space of a couple of hours, two different Taliban-affiliated groups carried out horrifying attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan saw a deadly terror attack on a university campus in the northwestern part of the country, claiming at least 22 lives and injuring more than 60 people. Bacha Khan University, located in the town of Charsadda in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was in the middle of commemorating the death of the legendary Pashtun leader, Badshah Khan, whom the university is named after. In the middle of a poetry recitation that was taking place as a part of the ceremony, gunfire erupted. The ensuing four-hour long gun battle claimed the lives of many students and teachers, who joined the tragic ranks of the many victims of terror in the country.
Terror also struck Afghanistan in the evening of that same day, when a bus belonging to the Afghan station ToloTV was attacked by a suicide bomber. Seven journalists are confirmed to have died, with many more wounded. This is the first time that so many journalists have been targeted by the Taliban in Kabul.
The two targets share one important commonality: the Taliban targeted “soft targets” that often criticize its behavior. Educational institutions and the media are vocal in their opinion against the Taliban and their methods.
The attack on Bacha Khan University almost coincides with the anniversary of the terrorist attack on an army school in Peshawar just over one year ago. That horrifying attack claimed more than a 150 lives, mostly children. The university is just 40 kilometers away from the school and interestingly falls in the same region where Nobel peace prize laureate Malala Yousufzai was once shot by the Taliban for her support of education for girls.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn writes that the mastermind of the Peshawar school attack, Umar Mansoor of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, has claimed responsibility for the attack through a post on his Facebook page, adding that four attackers were sent to the university.
However, Peshawar-based political analyst Rustam Shah Mohmand doubts the TTP’s claims. He says that the terror attack “could be in reaction to the ongoing operation against the Taliban in the northern Waziristan area.” In an interview with The Diplomat, the former government official believes that the “the hanging of the culprits of the Peshawar school attack last year may also be the reason for the brutality of some fringe elements belonging to Daesh could also be involved in the terror operation.”
The former Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan strongly argues that the attack on the university is in “no way in reaction to the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which is just in an embryonic stage. Furthermore, the most important Taliban actor, the Afghan Taliban, has not yet been included in these talks.”
Reacting to Wednesday’s development, Deputy Chairman Abdul Hakim Mujahid of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a body involved in the peace process, says that the best answer to terror attacks in the subcontinent is the peace process.
Talking to The Diplomat, Mujahid says that “the talks are important to end such regular violence.” The former Taliban representative to the United Nations underlines that “all the four states (Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China) will cooperate with each other in combating insurgency in any of their countries. I think they are working based on the mutual interest of all the four parties.”
However, the fact remains that the escalating violence in Afghanistan does not inspire confidence among people about the peace process. “The peace process is an illusion to keep people’s hopes up,” says Shahpur Akbari, a Kabul-based journalist.
Since the beginning of the new year, Kabul has experienced at least six bomb attacks, claiming scores of lives. Never before has the country seen this kind of heightened violence during the winter season. This shows that not only has the Taliban adopted a new strategy, but it is also attempting to keep the government on the defensive in order to further spread throughout the country.
The terror attacks on January 20 reinforce the fact that both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to build mutual trust to neutralize terror in the region. Their deep-seated distrust has fed the insurgency in both the nations. If they change their outlook and start building a new relationship based on trust, they will remain prisoners of terror.