A suicide bomber’s blast ended greater than 100 lives within the northwestern Pakistani metropolis of Peshawar, devastating a mosque in a supposedly safe sector of town, and sending smoke plumes into the sky and panic via the streets.
However greater than that: The attack on Monday knocked a terrorism-scarred metropolis again in time, to the period a decade in the past when Peshawar grew to become synonymous with the wreckage of a militant marketing campaign that profoundly modified a nation.
Within the years after 2015, when Pakistani Taliban fighters and different militants have been largely pushed out of the area — many into neighboring Afghanistan — Peshawar residents dared to hope that the times of random terrorist assaults have been behind them.
However on Tuesday, as emergency responders pulled physique after physique from the rubble, questions instantly intensified concerning the authorities’s skill to combat a brand new wave of militancy amid a seemingly intractable financial and political disaster.
The bombing was one of many bloodiest suicide assaults to hit Pakistan in years, killing no less than 101 individuals and wounding 217 others, hospital officers mentioned. Lots of the casualties have been cops and authorities workers who had gone to hope on the mosque, in a closely guarded neighborhood close to a number of vital authorities and army buildings.
The assault has added to current proof that the Pakistani Taliban, a faction of which claimed duty, is regaining power from secure havens in Afghanistan beneath that nation’s new authorities.
“The size of this assault, that it focused policemen at a mosque in a safe a part of Peshawar — this actually brings a couple of sense of déjà vu, a vivid reminder of the insecurity and violence that engulfed Pakistan a decade in the past,” mentioned Madiha Afzal, a fellow on the Brookings Establishment.
In Peshawar, the reminiscence of these days is visceral — and the sense of loss from the assault is profound. As nightfall fell on Tuesday, and the shaken metropolis gathered to bury rows and rows of coffins, many have been questioning: Have the times of blood and horror returned? And if they’ve, the place will the nation go from right here?
“For just a few years, there was calm and peace in Peshawar,” mentioned Akbar Mohmand, 34, a rickshaw driver within the metropolis. “However plainly suicide bombing and terrorism has returned.”
For a lot of the previous 40 years, Peshawar has suffered from the conflicts within the area. Within the Nineteen Eighties, it grew to become a staging floor for fighters struggling in opposition to the Soviet-backed Afghan authorities, and after america toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001, 1000’s of Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda members took refuge in so-called tribal areas alongside the border.
For years, Taliban leaders recruited Pakistanis who, just like the Afghan Taliban, have been ethnically Pashtun, whereas Pakistani army authorities tried to drive the militants out.
By 2007, a free community of militants had asserted their very own management and fashioned the Pakistani Taliban, often called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or T.T.P. The group rapidly emerged as one among Pakistan’s deadliest militant organizations, finishing up assaults throughout the nation.
Throughout that point, Peshawar grew to become the middle of the battle. In one of many group’s largest assaults, in December 2014, Taliban militants killed 147 college students and lecturers at an army-run public school — giving new impetus to a Pakistani army offensive that flushed most T.T.P. fighters into Afghanistan.
When the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, Pakistani officers have been hopeful that after years of covertly supporting them, the brand new authorities would assist rein within the T.T.P.
However up to now, that guess has not paid off. The Afghan Taliban has refused to lean on the T.T.P., analysts say, as a substitute insisting Pakistan handle its grievances. The Afghan Taliban hosted negotiations in Kabul final 12 months however the mediation proved fruitless — and relations between Afghan and Pakistani authorities have grow to be strained.
And within the midst of these talks, the Pakistani Taliban have been in a position to regroup, analysts say. In Swat, a picturesque northern valley that the T.T.P. as soon as successfully managed, residents watched final August as militants flooded again — bringing terror with them, they mentioned.
Rich businessmen, elected representatives and medical doctors started receiving nameless calls, comprised of Afghanistan and inside Pakistan, demanding they both pay hefty extortion sums or transfer to different cities. The surge in extortion and threats of violence prompted 1000’s of protesters to flood the streets of Swat in October, demanding the federal government maintain the peace.
“Individuals are dwelling in an environment of panic and uncertainty within the valley due to the resurgence of Taliban violence,” mentioned Mr. Majid Ali, 26, a college scholar who attended a number of protests. “However the individuals is not going to enable anybody to destroy peace within the identify of the Taliban within the area.”
The assault in Peshawar comes at a time of immense financial and political upheaval that critics say has consumed Pakistan’s leaders and drawn consideration away from safety threats, together with the T.T.P. and the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, which has additionally stepped up its assaults.
Amid the finger-pointing of the political elite on Tuesday, there have been additionally whispers the army might take into account launching one other counteroffensive like that in 2014. However at present any such offensive can be difficult by the Pakistani authorities’ tenuous relationship with the brand new authorities in Afghanistan.
“Essentially the most profitable counterterrorism response would doubtless be one which focuses on the epicenter of the T.T.P.s’ energy proper now — and that’s in Afghanistan, the place the group’s management relies,” mentioned Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute on the Wilson Heart. “If Pakistan have been to hold out counterterrorism actions which are cross-border in nature that would ship tensions with the Taliban in Afghanistan via the stratosphere — and that’s the very last thing Pakistan wants.”
Whilst Pakistan’s police beefed up their presence on Tuesday, many are usually not planning to attend for the federal government to determine its response. There may be already widespread discuss of migrating to comparatively safer cities, akin to Islamabad and Lahore.
“Not a single metropolis is secure in Pakistan, but when in comparison with Peshawar, one can discover comparatively calmer and peaceable,” mentioned Mr. Mukhtiar Masih, a Christian sanitary employee.
Mr. Masih misplaced a buddy in a 2013 suicide bombing that killed greater than 120 individuals in a Peshawar church — and he’s scared of renewed violence. He spent Tuesday calling buddies in Lahore, the place there’s a sizable Christian group, and starting to pack his luggage.
“I’ve lived in Peshawar through the peak of terrorism from 2009 to 2013,” he mentioned. “I understand how tough it’s to reside.”