The Pakistani Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has thanked the Taliban for not attacking Shi'ites celebrating Ashura in Pakistan. The remarks have caused an uproar in Afghanistan, which suffered attacks.
Malik's warm comments get him into hot water
The remarks came after Afghanistan on Tuesday witnessed its worst sectarian violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Multiple attacks against Shi'ites observing Ashura occurred almost simultaneously, killing over 60 people and injuring some 200 others.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, for the attacks.
Attacks against the Muslim minority group, which makes up about 15 percent of the population, are common, especially during the Muslim holiday of Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in 680 A.D.
One of the attacks was carried out by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the historical Abul Fazl shrine in Kabul, killing nearly 60 people. Dozens of Shi'ite worshippers had been lined up at the shrine, listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the most 100 endangered cultural heritage sites, to take part in Ashura celebrations.
In the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, four Shi'ites were killed and over 20 wounded when a bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded.
In a third attack, one person was killed by a motorcycle bomb in Kandahar, though authorities say it did not target Shi'ites. An indiscriminate roadside bomb on Wednesday killed 19 civilians in Helmand province.
Pakistani group claims responsibility
Tuesday's attacks came just a day after world leaders met in Bonn, Germany, to discuss the future of Afghanistan after international troops withdraw in 2014 – a summit which Pakistan boycotted.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai commented on the attacks from Berlin, calling them unprecedented. He cut short his trip to Europe and cancelled a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, directly blamed the Talban for the attacks.
The al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is based in Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Karzai said Wednesday that the Afghan government will “investigate the issue very carefully and discuss it with the Pakistani government.”
Pakistan has been blamed in the past for harboring terrorist networks, most recently by former US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in September.
The Afghan president blamed a Pakistani group for the attack
The interior minister's remarks Tuesday thanking the Taliban for leaving Shi'ites alone on Ashura this year in Pakistan, have brought on more criticism of the Pakistani government.
But some believe the remarks should be taken lightly. Peerzada Salman, a journalist for Dawn newspaper in Karachi, told Deutsche Welle, "Rehman Malik is a master of double-speak,” adding, “nobody takes him seriously in Pakistan.”
“It is a shame that an interior minister has to thank extremists like the Taliban. Having said that, I think his statement has more to do with domestic politics than international affairs. He is playing to the gallery and attempting to appease right-wing Pakistanis."
Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a political analyst in Pakistan, says the interior minister's statement “is a reaction to the recent NATO attacks that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. After a decade of half-hearted support in the US-led War on Terror, particularly against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistani government wants to re-engage with the Taliban, according to Paracha.
NATO forces are also a frequent target in Afghanistan
Paracha is not alone with his analysis. Many experts believe Islamabad is engaging in dialogue with the extremists, though the government officially denies it.
Dr. Naeem Ahmed, International Relations expert at Karachi University, believes the government is already in talks with the local Taliban.
"After the recent NATO attack on Pakistani soldiers, the Pakistani government has moved closer to the Taliban,” Ahmed explains.
He also believes the fact that the Pakistani interior minister thanked the Taliban for not creating problems “is a sign of future cooperation.”
The Taliban, who are a “strategic asset (for Pakistan) in relations to Afghanistan,” according to Ahmed, have stepped up attacks in Afghanistan recently.
Former President Rabbani, a key coordinator in the peace process with the Taliban, was assassinated in Kabul in September and NATO headquarters and a US embassy were also attacked in the Afghan capital in the same month. Islamabad has denied having any involvement with the Taliban or harboring terrorist networks.
Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Gregg Benzow