On January 31,100 people were killed and more than 225 people were wounded in a suicide bombing attack at a mosque in Peshawar, a city located in Northwestern Pakistan. According to Al Jazeera. The blast brought down the roof on over 300 worshippers as they began their prayers. This was the first attack in Peshawar since last March when a Shia Mosque was targeted by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, the Pakistani/Afghan branch of ISIS, which killed almost 60 people.
Peshawar is the largest city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, located in a region has been dominated by a Taliban resurgence that Pakistan’s government and military is struggling to contain. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is separate from the Taliban in Afghanistan but share the same fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, has maintained an insurgency throughout Pakistan for the past 15 years. The Guardian reports that the group has claimed responsibility for some the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country including a 2014 massacre at a school in Peshawar where 132 children were killed. Since the Afghan Taliban took power in 2021, the TTP has been bolder in their actions. They have instilled more fear in communities who now believe that a TTP takeover of the country is no longer impossible.
There is a debate about who is responsible for the attack, the TTP has released mixed reports about claiming and denying responsibility. After the bombing a low level TTP commander claimed responsibility for the attack, but ten hours later the official TTP spokesperson, Mohammad Khurasani, denied the TTP’s role in the event and reaffirmed that it is not their prerogative to target religious sites and those that violate their policies will be held accountable. Khurasani did fail to account for why the Commander affirmed being responsible for the bombing. The Associated Press reports that “The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam”.
The Afghan Taliban are accused of sheltering TTP leadership and fighters and the mosque bombing would place more pressure on the tense relationship between the two organizations. The Afghan Taliban used to secretly provide sanctuary to TTP fighters but had been open about sheltering the TTP after coming to power in 2021, according to the United States Institute of Peace. The Taliban has said multiple times that they will not support anyone, even the TTP, to use their territory for attacks against another country. Pakistani officials have critiqued these claims and brought up how there is a difference between the Taliban’s words and actions.
Prior to this attack, Pakistan has faced lots of political and social instability on many ends. Last April a vote of no-confidence took place in Parliament, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed from office. Since then, Khan has led a growing opposition movement against the coalition government and military holding the nation together. Pakistan’s economy has also been rapidly declining and in a crisis for months now. reports that, “ Inflation is backbreaking, the rupee’s value has fallen sharply, and its foreign reserves have now dropped precariously low to $4.3 billion, enough to cover only one month’s worth of imports, raising the possibility of default.”
There is a cycle within Pakistan’s economy of a poor economy being formed from too much spending and not enough producing and needing to rely on external debt, such as the IMF. Pakistan also faced a significant amount of flooding during the summer that wrecked entire villages destroying homes, infrastructure, crops, etc. The flooding has further strained an already volatile government, and has forced them to turn to countries like the UAE for aid, reports Reuters. This poor economic situation, political instability, and growing infrastructure crisis lessened trust in the government, which the TTP is now working to fill. The mosque attack is one event in a play for power by the Pakistan Taliban and as violence ensues, their power and influence is only expected to grow.
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