Eye on Pakistan

Assassination of Sarfraz Naeemi

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on June 12, 2009

The bomber may not have been targeting Sarfraz Naeemi directly – he did after all try to force his way into the main Jamia Naeemia, and only blew himself up when he was stopped at the entrance – where Sarfraz Naeemi’s office unfortunately happened to be. Nevertheless, this attack tells us who Baitullah Mehsud and others have begun to see as dangerous (and vulnerable) enemies. Not the westernized journalists and political commentators, but Islamic scholars and intellectuals who publicly oppose the militants’ program in Swat and FATA.

Sarfraz Naeemi was targeted because he was a leading participant in the  governtment-backed and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan organised National Ulema and Mashaikh Convention, held in May 2009 in Islamabad. The Convention had made several widely publicised statements against the Pakistani Taliban and Sufi Muhammad in particular; and even then it was recognised that paricipants of the Convention may bcome targets.

Does this attack, coupled with the simulataneous bombing of a masjid in Nowshera signal the birth of a new strategy – an attempt to cowe Sunni scholars into submission? Its too early to tell, but I doubt it – I would imagine that Sarfraz Naeemi was singled out rather than being the first in a line of such assassinations. Pakistani Islamic scholars and Sunni religious leaders have not exactly fallen over themselves to criticise the Pakistani Taliban, whilse the May 2009 convention was, judging from its coverage in Bloomberg, convened in order to demonstrate to the United States that Zardari’s government was indeed serious in taking on Islamicist militants.

Baitullah Mehsud and his ilk are clearly poorly advised. It is immediately obvious that this attack will only lessen support for him and the ‘Pakistani Taliban’ – one only has to see the television footage of the aftermath. If the Pakistani Taliban really want to garner support in rural and urban Punjab, they are probably better off bombing unpopular (feudal) politicians. I think the militants will gauge the reaction to this bombing, and turn to other (similarly “soft”) targets.

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