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For Taliban victims, Pakistani peace talks feel like betrayal

Recently, the Pakistani government and Taliban forces in the country have expressed interest in peace talks. But for thousands of civilians who have been injured or lost a loved one at the hands of the Taliban, the idea is abhorrent.

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In the southern city of Karachi, 12-year-old Mehzar Fatima was shot in the back when a gunman killed her father, a Shiite Muslim. The sectarian groups often accused of carrying out such attacks are closely aligned with the Pakistani Taliban. The gunshot left her unable to move her legs and feet and she fears she might never use them again.

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Her mother, Kishwar Fatima, said she's being pressured to leave the hospital where the girl is being treated because there's no government assistance to help pay her bills.

Those wounded in the violence feel further victimized because many Pakistanis don't even agree on who is to blame for their suffering.

Despite the huge loss of life and property, the views of many Pakistanis are influenced by right-wing, anti-American propaganda that spawns conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks. Fellow Muslims could never commit acts of violence against their own people, they say, so someone else must be to blame. Some theories suggest U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies support the Taliban and other militant groups to destabilize Pakistan.

Some people who support the militants think the Taliban are better than many of Pakistan's corrupt politicians who have failed to deliver good governance. Many Pakistanis also say the militant problems in the tribal areas are a result of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and when the U.S. leaves, the Pakistani Taliban will also stop fighting.

Even some of the victims aren't sure who is to blame.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for a Feb. 2 suicide attack that killed 23 people in the northwestern city of Lakki Marwat. But Mohammad Shafi, whose 24-year-old son was among nine soldiers killed in the explosion, isn't convinced the attackers were members of the Taliban. He says Muslims would never hurt a fellow Muslim.

Instead, Shafi thinks his son — a boxer who never lost a fight before he was shot seven times during the attack on an army post — was killed by Hindu agents that archrival India sent, with U.S. assistance, to destabilize Pakistan. He said Pakistan should sever ties with the U.S. to abolish terrorism.

"If my son was killed by infidels, he has been martyred and will go to heaven," he said.

Confusion over who is responsible for the deadly violence also has some victims wondering if the Pakistani government makes peace with the Taliban, will it also make peace with other militant groups.

Will the government, for instance, hold talks with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group linked to al-Qaida that is accused of killing more than 175 Shiite Muslims during the past two months in the southwestern city of Quetta?

Ghazanfar Ali lost his 24-year-old son in one of these attacks on Jan. 10 in Quetta. Another of his sons survived the same attack after three major surgeries.

Ali broke down in tears as he recalled sifting through rubble and identifying his son's body by the ring he had on his finger because his head and face were wounded beyond recognition.

"There can't be peace with the Taliban," he said. "They slaughter a son in front of his father and then chant 'God is great!'"

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar; Zaheer Babar in Lahore; Abdul Sattar in Quetta; and Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan contributed to this report.

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