The suicide attack in Pak-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) earlier this week in which three soldiers were killed and 11 injured outside an army barracks has raised fears the Taliban are expanding operations into that part of the country. This is the third terrorist attack in PoK that has historically been free of militant violence.
What makes these attacks more intriguing is that no group has claimed responsibility for them and the Pakistan government has declined to even say whom they suspect was behind them.
At the same time, the rise in violence in this strategic area has made many wonder whether the Taliban wants to open a new frontier in the war against the government.
Most parts of Pakistan are experiencing regular attacks by suicide bombers. Over 500 people have died in the latest wave, But political commentators say the attack near the town of Rawalakot last week was not “just another suicide attack.”
But who is responsible for this attack remains a question on which there is no consensus. “Given that the areas of Azad Kashmir [PoK] is very much sanitized one can assume that these rogue elements are coming in from outside the country,” says Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan Army general and political analyst.
This is a view widely shared in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis point fingers towards India and say it is responsible for the attacks, that they are in retaliation for the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The large military presence in PoK, as well as its strategic importance to Pakistan, has meant this area has been relatively free of violence.
A number of Sunni militant groups have been based here but the focus of these groups has been attacking that part of Kashmir not occupied by Pakistan, say local journalists. They say the militant groups based in Pok are carefully monitored and they cannot indulge in terror activities in the area. That has been a reason why there has been no record of terrorist violence.
However, this state of affairs has started to come apart in the past year. PoK has witnessed some its worst violence in decades in the past couple of months. Eight Shias were killed in a bombing last month when three would-be suicide bombers blew themselves up in Muzaffarabad as they were chased by police. The three men did not appear to be Kashmiris, police said.
In June, a suicide bomber killed two soldiers and injured three others in the same town. This week’s suicide bombing is the latest in the series of attacks which target either Shias or military men. The bombing is the first outside Muzaffarabad and comes a day after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited the area.
Attacks on Shias have been a characteristic of some Taliban-affiliated groups, like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and has raised fears among some that the Taliban may be trying to expand their area of operations.
Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc, says the attacks may have been planned out of PoK but the chances are that it is a move by the Tehreek-e-Taliban.