The Taliban presence in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been an issue of international concern in the War on Terrorism. In the aftermath of the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, Islamist militant leader Maulana Fazlullah and his group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and Baitullah Mehsud‘s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) formed an alliance. After that several peace talks between them and the government failed. The Pakistan army offensive against the the Taliban began in late April this Year. In retaliation the Taliban have triggered a series of suicide blasts in various parts of the country.
Hasan Mubarak on Lahore MetBlogs considers it an expected retaliation:
It was not unexpected after the Government launched an all-out military action against the militants in SWAT that they will hit back harder this time. Again, the phenomenon of suicide bombings is not new; we have now been going through this for the last two years while losing thousands of innocent people and a former Prime Minister. What’s new is the scale and sophistication of these blasts.
The increasing number of suicide bombings in various cities have sparked various reactions from people. Much recent attacks targeting mosques have resulted in a backlash from the locals of the area.
A blog Post on Pakistan First elaborates the sentiment of people against the Taliban:
Pakistani tribesman avenging a mosque attack surrounded two militant strongholds and destroyed the homes of some Taliban commanders, an official said Monday as the death toll in the fighting hit 13.
As many as 1,600 tribesmen have joined a citizens’ militia in Upper Dir district an indication of rising anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan as the military pursues its offensive against the militant group in the nearby Swat Valley.
The targeting of mosques has also brought about reactions from various religious organizations and Clerics. Apart from condemning the attacks the religious factions have also started campaigning against the Talibans.
A post on ApnaLahore details the event:
Addressing the participants at Regal Chowk, Dr Sarfraz Naeemi (President of TRNM) said the military operation must continue till (the) complete eradication of the Taliban.
He said those opposing the operations were not patriotic and secretly supporting the Taliban who had caused irreparable loss to Islam. He lashed out at leaders of the religious leaders who opposed creation of Pakistan. He announced that an all Pakistan Ulema and Mashaikh convention would be held on June 10 at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal to reaffirm the cause of Pakistan.
Mufti Naeemi also released a fatwa declaring the Taliban as ‘non-muslims’ further aggravating the Taliban's stance on Islam. This seem to be a bold initiative that might help in lowering down sympathies for Taliban.
A post at Five rupees illustrates the impact of the Anti-Taliban Movement and Naeemi's Fatwa:
This made his anti-Taliban stance all the more useful. He could reach out to people who might be inclined to follow the Taliban in a way that liberals like us never could. He also served as a symbol, not only of the public's growing revulsion at the Taliban, but also their willingness to support military action to deal with the threat. It is no surprise that Naeemi's support of the current military operation, support he had not given to such previous actions, coincided with greater public support for the army.
The news of the blast that killed the Anti-Taliban cleric sparked these reactions on twitter:
@MaajidNawaz is mourning the assasination of the Sufi religious scholar Safraz Naeemi by extremist bigotted terrorists in Pakistan
@DrAwab: Dr. Sarfaraz Naeemi killed in the blast. The person who had given fatwa in favour of swat operation
@imhassan The bomb blast in lahore was in the mosque where i offered Friday prayers all my childhood. Feel really bad about the incident
@kursed This is the third attack against a mosque in a month, in Pakistan
Apart from the the Paksitani Blogosphere, the mainstream media also chimed in condemning the targeting of mosques.
Paul Alexander at the Associate Press puts the public sentiments into perspective :
But instead of sowing fear and dissension, the attacks appear to be contributing to a growing wave of anti-Taliban sentiment, particularly the bombing at a seminary Friday that killed Sarfraz Naeemi. The cleric had called the militants murderers, condemned suicide attacks as un-Islamic and backed the ongoing operations in the Swat Valley region.
His death sparked a general strike that virtually shut down Karachi, the country's commercial center. About 200 activists of Jamat Ahle Sunnat, a moderate Muslim sect, staged a mock funeral procession for the Taliban, burning one in effigy as they chanted “Down with the Taliban; Taliban, the enemy of Islam; death for the killers of Sarfraz Naeemi.”
Adil Najam at ATP gives an analysis on the Taliban tactic :
It is clear that the Taliban know exactly what they are doing. They are spreading mayhem. They are breeding fear. They are terrorizing Pakistanis. They are doing all this for a reason. The real battle is for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis.
They made the religious argument and that seems to be working less and less for them today. Now they are threatening our daily existence in the attempt to break the will of the public.
The heinous acts of terrorism at mosques speaks volumes about the “Taliban's version” of religion and democracy. It remains to be seen how the Taliban, being a fundamental part of the Afghan and tribal communities of Northern Pakistan, are perceived and tackled by the Pakistanis in the future.