Attackers stormed a mosque in Rawalpindi during Friday prayers today, killing at least 36 people, including 17 children, 10 civilians, and 9 army personnel. Of the army personnel killed, six were senior officials, while one was an army general. The NY Times also reported that one of the wounded was Gen. Muhammad Yousaf, a retired senior commander who served as the deputy head of the army under former President Pervez Musharraf. While some reports differed on whether the perpetrators were suicide bombers or gunmen (reporting later that they were both), Dawn cited the official statement by ISPR that said, “Four terrorists carried out the attack; grenades were first hurled into the mosque, before two of the terrorists went inside and blew themselves up. The remaining terrorists then opened indiscriminate fire outside the mosque.”
Al Jazeera English correspondent Imran Khan noted the attack was significant because it may have caused the deaths of some “very senior military officers.” He added,
Whoever was responsible for this attack will be saying that this is a coup for them because in previous attacks on security installations what normally happens is its low-level officers that form the brunt of [the attack]. We are hearing two two-star generals have been killed in [Friday's] attack, as well as a brigadier and a major-general. Those are unconfirmed at the moment, but if that’s true, this is the higher echelon of the military. The big question is how they were able to get inside with machine guns and …. penetrate such high security.
The brazenness and ease with which the attackers breached the secure area has raised many red flags. A witness told the NY Times, “Only military officers and formal officers who have screened by the intelligence services were supposedly allowed in the mosque.” Recent attacks on Pakistan’s major security apparatuses [including the Army's General HQ in Rawalpindi and the FIA building in Lahore] have garnered similar suspicion – are these attacks merely the result of security lapses or could they also be “inside jobs“?
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Rawalpindi attack today, ISPR spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas once again said it was “a case of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters reacting to the army offensive against them.” He added, “We have yet to establish who the attackers are, but apparently on the face of it they belong to the same organization against whom the army is operating in the area of South Waziristan.” While these militants “are on the run,” Abbas asserted, “they have their agents in the cities and the towns, so … they will conduct these acts.”
In my opinion, it is problematic to constantly point to a faraway enemy every time an attack is perpetrated in Pakistan’s main cities. The oft-branded “Taliban” is not a cohesive or localized organization, but a loose network of militant groups, each with varying agendas and objectives, but able to share information and collaborate on attacks. Therefore, the attack on the Rawalpindi mosque may have indirectly involved the “Taliban” the military is fighting in South Waziristan, but it may have been directly carried out by Punjab-based militant groups, “who were once sponsored by the state but have in recent years turned their attention toward fighting Pakistan’s security forces,” noted the Christian Science Monitor, [see related CHUP post]. The news agency added, “Analysts believe that groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad are deepening their links with the Pakistani Taliban…and that most attacks that occur in the populous eastern province of Punjab are at least partly their work.” To my knowledge, the Pakistani government has not developed an adequate strategy of tackling this militant nexus, an approach that should operate in tandem to the military offensive in South Waziristan.
The fact that militants could commit such a brazen attack, killing children and military officials during Friday prayers, is an immense tragedy. Instead of just condemning these attacks, however, the government should be doing more. In memory of the many killed today and the numbers who have been killed in recent attacks, I say – less talk, more action. Please.