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A Crime Foretold: The Charsadda Bombing in Pakistan
by Informed Comment Global Affairs (reposted)
Sunday Dec 23rd, 2007 9:21 AM
From a Saturday, December 22, 2007 entry on Informed Comment Global Affairs, a group blog run by Juan Cole, Manan Ahmed, Farideh Farhi, and Barnett R. Rubin
Yesterday's suicide attack that killed 48 people in Charsadda, a village northeast of Peshawar, Pakistan, was not aimed just at Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, the former Interior Minister. It was part of a strategy by the Pakistani Taliban, supported by al-Qaida, to surround Peshawar with a ring of destabilization.

At the time of the attack, Sherpao, a native of Charsadda, was praying in the mosque on the occasion of 'Id al-Adha (known in South Asia as 'Id-i Qurban), which commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham's son. In the Torah the son is Isaac; in the Qur'an it is Isma'il. Jews commemorate their account of this event on Yom Kippur: the substitution of a ram for Isaac in the sacrifice prefigures the scapegoat, released into the wilderness by the High Priest to atone for the sins of the people.

And speaking of scapegoats -- I wonder who will be blamed for this? The attack on Charsadda was not exactly a surprise. When I was in Islamabad on November 5 I received some information from Peshawar about the Pakistani Taliban. Here is the verbatim copy (cut and pasted with no change) from the notes I took on my laptop:
Ppl being trained for Charsadda. Will be taken over just before or after Id al-Adha (end of hajj). Cmdr is Sher Khan. Currently training his men in Chapari area of Momand Agency adjacent to Char Sadda district.
If a five-day visit to Islamabad enabled me to learn that an attack on Charsadda was being planned for 'Id, I wonder how many other people knew it. I wasn't even trying to find out about security threats. Somebody just told me in the course of a wide-ranging conversation. I can't say who, but it is not somebody that the government does not know how to find.

To understand better what this is about, look at this map (easier to read original here):
Charsadda is northeast of Peshawar, just southwest of Malakand, where Sufi Muhammad (now jailed) led the Tehrik-i Nifaz-i Shariat-i Muhammadi, an armed movement for implementation of the shari'a, a few years ago. Just north of Malakand is Swat. At the time of my meeting in Peshawar, Sufi Muhammad's son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, was leading fighters who took over several villages in Swat. On the northwest, Charsadda borders on the Mohmand Tribal agency, where Commander Sher Khan was reportedly training his men to attack Charsadda. Mohmand agency is just south of the Bajaur Agency, where Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Gulbuddin Hikmatyar have frequently been reported. Bajaur then connects to Dir district, which connects the tribal agencies to Swat. According to my informant:
Police intercepted weapons being sent to Fazlullah more than once, and every time military intervened to rescue weapons and people. Over last two years. Running radio for 2 years, stockpiling wpns in Paivand near Nehagh Dara connecting Swat and Dir. Camp run by two Arabs, Syrian and Iraqi.
Social structural differences may explain why the militants chose to attack Swat rather than Dir, which is closer to their training camps: in Dir the tribal structure, dominated by Yusufzai khans, is more intact and resistant to outside influence, whereas in Swat tribal power was weakened by the rule of the Wali, a religious (Sufi) figure, leaving the society less structured and more vulnerable once the Wali was removed. (So say my informants: I have not conducted research on this subject.)

This offensive northeast of Peshawar complements advances from other sides. My notes again:
Encircled Peshawar. Captured Darra Adam Khel [eastern part of Orakzai
Agency, which cuts of Peshawar district's southern access to the rest of NWFP]. Advancing on Peshawar from Matani from Darra [Adam Khel] side from south. From Bara in the West [a sub-region of Khyber agency]. Mohmand population in the northwest.
While I have not conducted a systematic search, I have not come across any discussion in the U.S. media of the Taliban offensive to destabilize the areas around Peshawar, which is adjacent to Northern Punjab and the capital, Islamabad. The bombing is depicted as an act of terrorism aimed against an individual, rather than as part of a political and military strategy by a coherent political group. Just last week, however (on December 14), in an interview with BBC Urdu service, Baitullah Mahsud, the commander of South Waziristan,reported that the Pakistani Taliban had agreed to a single chain of command under him.

This apparent U.S. inattention to this major development has of course given rise to conspiracy theories in Pakistan: that the U.S. wants the Taliban to surround Islamabad so that it has an excuse to destroy Pakistan's nuclear weapons.... Of course this is completely ridiculous (please do not circulate this theory on the internet and attribute it to me), but the weak reaction to the Pakistani threat by President Musharraf, who clearly considers the Supreme Court and the Bar Association to be greater dangers to his power, and the continued support for Musharraf by Washington, generate such theories as Pakistanis struggle to make sense out of the slow-moving and quite visible catastrophe that is gathering in their country. The New York Times has it right today: Musharraf is weakening Pakistan.