Hot spot Charsadda

The suicide bomb attack that tragically killed more than 50 people in a mosque in Charsadda near Peshawar on Id-ul-Adha on December 21, is the 51st such incident in Pakistan this year. The target of the attack was former Pakistani Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, but he escaped unhurt, though his son was wounded. This is not the first time that a mosque has been so targeted and the sanctity of Id is no deterrent for such ostensibly random but clinically pre-meditated attacks.

The incidence of suicide bombings has increased dramatically after the Lal Masjid operations in July this year and is a direct challenge to the writ of the Musharraf regime. It is also pertinent that Pakistan is in the run-up to the January 8 national elections and the political discourse that now accompanies local electioneering is both troubling and deeply significant in the larger South Asian context, given the socio-religious fervour being stoked.

The current electoral ambience in Pakistan is agitated and anti-military rule. After eight years under Musharraf, albeit with a façade of a civilian cabinet, civil society in that country is yearning to exercise its franchise. Paradoxically, the freedom given to the media by Musharraf has contributed considerably to this socio-political animation. Concurrently, the country is grappling with a complex internal security crisis of which Lal Masjid and Swat are only symptomatic. Musharraf though a civilian president now, is still the symbol of the military jackboot and is perceived to be a US puppet. Within Pakistan, the war against terror is seen as part of a devious US game-plan that is diabolically anti-Islam.

Pre-election rhetoric is playing upon this inflamed sentiment and the major political parties are exploiting this strand. Former PM Nawaz Sharif was explicit in his exhortation. Speaking in rural Punjab, on December 14 he declaimed: "We will not accept Musharraf even if he lifts emergency... There will be a 'referendum' on January 8, not an election. People will reject the tyrant rulers who have murdered the innocent Muslims in the Lal Masjid. Musharraf works on the orders of the foreign powers. He has even put the hero of Pakistan, Dr A.Q. Khan, under house arrest".

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