View Full Version : Why repeatedly Charsadda? By Mohammad Ali Babakhel - 19 March 2016

19th March 2016, 11:58 AM
By carrying out a suicide attack outside a court’s premises in Shabqadar, militants once again registered their presence in Charsadda. Through an attack such as this, the militants not only wanted to inflict damages but also send out certain clear-cut messages. In the backdrop of the Army Public School (APS) and Bacha Khan University (BKU) attacks, law-enforcement agencies primarily invested their energies in the enhancement of security of educational institutions. Consequently, an over-reactive approach was witnessed. On the part of militants, a change of target from schools to courts seems a cunning move. This time round, the unfortunate target of the wrath of extremists was the premises of a court, where victims of crimes seek justice. Therefore, the attack was also an attempt to erode the trust of citizens in the justice system. Although the courts are an integral component of the criminal justice system, hitting such a target also affects its equation with the police.

Charsadda, also known as Pushkalawati and Hashtnagar, is spread over 996 square kilometres and divided, administratively, into three tehsils with a total population of 1.62 million inhabitants. It is surrounded by Mardan, Nowshera, Peshawar, Malakand Agency and Mohmand Agency. Being adjacent to defacto tribal areas and Mohmand Agency, Charsadda is an easy target for militants. For decades, the area remained a hub for Pashtun nationalists. Thus, by targeting BKU, they not only challenged the writ of state but also Pashtun nationalism and the right to education.

Charsadda also carries imprints of suicide attacks. At a public meeting in April 2007 and during Eid prayers in December, the same year, the chief of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) was targeted. Though he remained unhurt, a total of 91 innocent souls in both incidents fell prey to the onslaught of suicide attackers. In 2008, four suicide attacks were registered and in 2009, the police post in Harichand was attacked with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, resulting in the death of 18 people. In March, 2011, the cavalcade of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam — Fazl chief was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing 12 people, the prime target remaining unhurt. In May, 2011, in a twin-suicide attack, the cadets of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) were targeted, leading to the loss of 90 lives, including 73 recruits of the FC. In March, 2012, in the Shabqadar area, a motorcade of the QWP’s chief was targeted .Though he managed to get away unhurt, two people were killed. In April, 2015, the fourth attempt of a suicide attack on the QWP’s chief failed, but resulted in the loss of three lives.

In the recent past, the motorcades of two heads of Pashtun nationalist parties and one of a religious political party were targeted by suicide bombers. Luckily, in all such attacks, the principal targets remained unhurt. The situation warrants a modification in security arrangements catering to the protection of national leaders.

Regarding the presence of extremists in the area, no one views the situation from socio-economic and demographic perspectives. In the backdrop of Operation Rah-e-Rast and Operation Brekhna, Charsadda went through a silent transition. Migration from certain areas of Malakand Division, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies, challenged the socio-cultural values and demographic balance of Hashtnagar.

In K-P, Charsadda was once known for big landholdings; but in the 1970’s, the landlords of Shabqadar and Tangi tehsils were confronted with the challenging factor of a peasant-led Mazdoor Kisan movement.

Political waves of the 1970’s and the Afghan jihad of 1980’s infused democratic and religious fervour, hence both are instrumental in making a crystal clear divide between the haves and have-nots.

The Mazdoor Kisan Tehreek (a workers’ and peasants’ movement), inspired by Marxist and Maoist passions, infused thrill among the peasants and posed a challenge to the Khans of Charsadda. Such a challenge not only weakened the Khans, but also strengthened the clergy. The movement advocated that excess land be taken from big landlords and be distributed among landless peasants. Such elements not only prevailed on the political landscape, but also claimed the ownership of land they had been cultivating since decades.

The Mohmand Agency shares borders with Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. Turbulence in Afghanistan and the Mohmand Agency causes ripples that impact the stability in Charsadda. The killing of nine personnel of the Khasadar Force in two separate incidents last month in Mohmand Agency, was an indicator of the extent to which the aggressive intentions of the militants were underestimated.

It was not the first-ever attack on a court. Prior to the recent attempted attack on a Shabqadar court, judicial complexes in Islamabad and Peshawar were also attacked. In 2008, in a suicide attack outside the Lahore High Court, 25 people, including 17 policemen, were killed. In 2014, the Additional Sessions Judge, Shabqadar, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Since 9/11, militants hit at all the components and actors of the criminal justice system, including police stations, police lines, police training centres, courts, prisons, policemen, judges, jail staff, prosecutors and lawyers. But there seems to be no realisation that dealing with such a menace requires synchronised endeavours. Instead, after every such incident, a game of apportioning blame and discrediting others ensues. Such attacks also warrant the redesigning of the security infrastructure of courts and the security apparatus of judges.

In the post-APS attack scenario, in the presence of apex committees’ coordination with the police, administration and intelligence agencies improved tremendously. However, coordination between the political district administrations and its translation at police station-level requires more effort.

Since numerous transit routes connect Charsadda with settled and tribal areas, there must be an intensified presence of the police and the FC in the outer-most parts of Charsadda. On the operational front, intelligence-led operations in Prang Ghar, Munda Headworks, Shakoor, Sarki, Mandani and defacto areas, are inevitable.

Attackers and perpetrators would not be successful if they were not facilitated by the community. Therefore, the inability to identify the facilitators is a major failure on the part of the community and law-enforcement apparatus. The identification and arrest of facilitators is not possible unless the community is provided with an education. Such preparedness can be achieved with the effective inclusion of clergy and elected local government representatives.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9, 2016.