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Peshawar attack: Afghan peace process may have been the target

The Peshawar attack may have been the work of the spoilers of the Afghan peace process.
Updated 27 Oct 2020

At least seven people were killed while over 100 sustained injuries in an explosion at a seminary in Peshawar's Dir Colony on Tuesday morning. It seems to be another cowardly act of terrorists, picking up a soft target such as children, or it could be a lot more.

Maulana Rahimullah Haqqani, who was delivering a sermon at the time of the blast could be the target of the attack. There are many reasons that make this assessment a likely possibility.

In the past, several attacks have been targeted Haqqani Madrasas, Mosques, and their religious scholars in Pakistan to weaken Islamabad's ties with the religious group.

The Haqqani group, which is closely allied with the Afghan Taliban, is playing an important role in the Afghan peace process.

More importantly, the leadership of the Afghan Taliban comprises leaders from the Haqqani network.

Recently, the New York Times published an op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghan Taliban’s deputy chief, under the headline, "What we, the Taliban, want." In his op-ed, Haqqani wrote, that his group "fully committed” to a deal with the United States.

Potentially, the targeting of the Haqqani group’s members in Pakistan could be an attempt to spoil the ongoing work on the Afghan peace process where Pakistan and the US have become key stakeholders.

In the past, Pakistan, as well as many other countries, have warned of potential spoilers when it comes to the fate of the Afghan peace process.

“Afghan peace process has entered a critical phase. We, therefore, need to remain alert to the elements, who are attempting to sabotage the progress,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently told US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

For years, India and the Kabul government have been trying to sabotage the Afghan peace process. New Delhi has supported peace talks that include the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. “The broad contours of the now-signed US-Taliban agreement had troubled New Delhi, an important partner of Afghanistan that played no active role in the peace efforts and considered the agreement one-sided,” noted an article published in the Atlantic Council. “Many in New Delhi favored a no-deal scenario with the Taliban over a deal that favored Pakistan, especially given Islamabad’s ambiguous and undefined role in the peace efforts. That concern has remained unabated in New Delhi,” it noted further.

Similarly, the government in Kabul has always criticized Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace talks. While the last few months have been productive when it comes to both countries reaching out to build trust, Kabul may be still trying to undermine Pakistan’s efforts in this regard.

Largely, the attack in Peshawar reflects the work of India and Kabul’s intelligence agencies that want to undermine Pakistan’s influence with key stakeholders of the Afghan peace process. Analysts believe that New Delhi worries that Besides the fate of its investments, China and Pakistan may emerge as a dominant player once the US vacates Kabul.

New Delhi is cognizant of Afghanistan's changing political and security landscape. Reportedly, India has been considering plans to open dialogue with the Taliban. However, it has not worked yet and it is unlikely to work in the near future.

Earlier this year, the Afghan Taliban accused India of playing a "negative" role in Afghanistan by supporting the Kabul government.

There are also reports that ISIS is recruiting Indians for its operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is unclear whether these operations have had the support of officials from Dehli but the numbers have risen steadily over the years. A few months ago, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), IS’s affiliate in Afghanistan, used an Indian national to attack a Sikh place of worship. "The attack has brought home a haunting realization that Indian nationals who joined jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and the IS in Syria and Afghanistan pose a tremendous security threat and are likely to be used to attack Indian interests at home and abroad," argued Shweta Desai in the Atlantic Council.

“TTP/NDS never want this peace process to be a success story, because it'll end their rule in Afghanistan. The same is the reason they're targeting religious scholars affiliated with Haqqani Madaris in Pakistan and Afghanistan, noted a Twitter handle.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to City SP Waqar Azeem, an unidentified man came to the madrassah at around 8 am, kept a bag there which had explosives, and left.

Last week, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had issued a security alert saying there was credible information about the possibility of subversive activities.

Last month, at least five people were killed and two injured in a blast in the Akbarpura area of Nowshera. The explosion occurred in a market situated along the Kabul River where some people were collecting scrap material from the stones alongside the river.