ISLAMABAD: The army on Monday claimed to have finally solved the mystery surrounding the 2013 Ashura Day violence that claimed the lives of at least nine people in Rawalpindi.

According to Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the head of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the attack carried out by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was an attempt to rupture “sectarian fault-lines” and had been linked to Indian and Afghan intelligence activities in the country.

“In 2013, a Sunni Mosque was attacked in Rawalpindi and it was claimed that a Shia organisation was to blame. Intelligence agencies investigated the incident, tracing and busting the network involved,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said.

He revealed that both the mosque and the terrorists who attacked and set fire to it, belonged to the same sect.

Terms attack an attempt to create ‘sectarian fault-lines’ in the country

“They pretended to be [from another sect] and donned black clothes to create sectarian fault-lines,” he said, adding that the attack had subsequently sparked more sectarian clashes in the country.

The Madressah Taleemul Quran was at the epicentre of the violence that paralysed Rawalpindi on Nov 15, 2013.

While the circumstances surrounding the incident are still disputed, it was claimed that offensive remarks were passed by a cleric belonging to the mosque, which led to clashes and rioting.

As the situation spiralled out of control, a curfew was imposed and the military was called in to quell the unrest in the garrison city.

At Monday’s press briefing, the ISPR chief also played video clips featuring the confessions of two of the eight attackers.

“We were told to wear black clothes on Muharram 10 and carry out the attack on the madressah in Raja Bazaar to cause a Shia-Sunni clash,” said TTP commander Shazaib, who claimed to be leading the mission. He said he belonged to Bajaur and that there were eight people in his group.

Detailing the events of the day, he said that his gang reached the madressah around the time of the Friday congregation. They split up when they entered the seminary, with half the men heading to the upper storey and half staying on the ground floor.

Shahzaib claimed he was guarding the seminary gate and stabbed a couple of worshippers.

Then, he said, he bought oil and set the seminary on fire.

At the time, he said, the Muharrum procession was near Fawara Chowk (half a kilometre from the seminary). When gunfire broke out, he said, the men escaped and reassembled at Chuhr Chowk, a few kilometres from the seminary. Shahzaib then returned to Bajaur 15-20 days later.

Ajmal Khan, another terrorist who claimed he was affiliated with TTP Bajaur, said that the operation was controlled by a commander based in Afghanistan, while Shahzaib was leading the mission on the ground. During the attack, he claimed he was armed with a pistol and positioned himself on the first floor of the seminary.

After the video played, the ISPR chief explained that these confessions revealed how an attempt was made to create “sectarian fault-lines”.

“It was linked to NDS, RAW and the Kulbhushan Jhadav network,” he added.

He said the matter was being probed and it was up to the government to decide if it wanted to prosecute the case in a military court or a civilian one.

The ISPR chief parried a question about the fate of the cases against Shias who were booked after the incident. Most of them are currently on bail.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2017