The dual suicide bombing of a Sunday morning church service in Peshawar, Pakistan, over the weekend is not typical of the kinds of attacks the Pakistani minority Christian community has experienced over the past several years.
Previous attacks on the Pakistani Christian community have been largely spontaneous and provoked by rumors that someone in the community has committed blasphemy against the religion of Islam. For instance, a mob burned down over 140 homes in a Christian neighborhood in eastern Lahore last March after a Muslim man accused a Christian acquaintance of insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. In 2009, another large mob burned down 40 houses and a church in the town of Gojra in Punjab province, killing at least seven Christians. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran.
But this past Sunday’s attack was not spontaneous. It was a terrorist attack like so many we have seen in Pakistan over the past six years following the creation of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP).
While the TTP is a Pakistani organization, it clearly has links to al-Qaeda and also poses a threat to the United States. The TTP was involved with the suicide bombing of the CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009 and the attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010.
The Pakistani state has long been in the crosshairs of al-Qaeda. In remarks he made on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri expressed the importance of Pakistan within al-Qaeda’s overall strategy. He said the fighting “aims at creating a safe haven for the mujahideen in Pakistan, which can then be used as a launching pad for the struggle of establishing an Islamic system.”
Sunday’s attack shows that Islamabad’s policy of trying to negotiate with the TTP is unlikely to succeed. The attack comes less than a week after the government proposed negotiations with the TTP, which has killed thousands of Pakistanis since its creation in 2007.
Pakistan’s last attempt to negotiate with terrorists ended in disaster. After proposing peace talks with a Pakistani Taliban faction in 2009, the Taliban fighters took control of the Swat Valley and then sought to make inroads in other parts of Pakistan. The military finally regained control of the Swat Valley through force in mid-2009, but its initial appeasement of the militants had allowed them to entrench in society and emboldened them to try to gain more territory.
Pakistan’s leadership should view Sunday’s attack against its minority Christian community as a wake-up call to what the TTP terrorist threat means to the stability of the state. Rather than blame the U.S. for the terrorism problems in the country, the Pakistani civilian and military leadership should coordinate a strategy that addresses the threat from a position of strength and demonstrates that the state is capable of protecting its people. Proposing negotiations seems only to have worsened the terrorist threat to the country.