PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – Assailants threw grenades into a crowded movie theater in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 13 people, officials said, in an attack that shows the challenges as negotiators face off in talks between the Taliban and the government.
One of the grenades blew up the main door, and two more exploded inside the theater as about 80 people were watching a movie called “Yarana,” which means friendship in Pashto, officials said. The floor of the cinema was streaked with blood while some of the seats were torn from the force of the explosion.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in Peshawar, a city near restive areas on the Afghan border that are home to Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida-linked foreign Islamic militants. Many militant groups view movies and other forms of entertainment as obscene Western influences.
The manager of the cinema, Fayaz Khan, said he hadn’t received any threats from anyone and urged the government to provide protection for them in the future.
Police official Kamal Khan said the investigation was continuing, and it wasn’t clear how many attackers were involved. Another official, Ijaz Khan, gave the death toll and said some 20 people were also wounded.
The attack comes days after Pakistan began peace negotiations with Taliban militants fighting in the country’s northwest to end the violence that has killed more than 40,000 people in recent years. The Pakistani Taliban, formally called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is separate from the Taliban fighting NATO-forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Although the two groups share similar ideology, the Pakistani Taliban has focused its fight against the Pakistani government.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made negotiating with the militants a centerpiece of his new government elected last May. That policy has many supporters in Pakistan who are tired of the seemingly unending suicide bombings and shootings and view the war as being imposed on Pakistan by the U.S. after the invasion of Afghanistan. But others say the militants have already broken previous agreements.
After some initial stumbles, the government’s efforts have picked up steam in recent weeks with both sides naming people to represent them in the talks. Members of the Pakistani Taliban’s negotiating team flew to the North Waziristan tribal agency over the weekend to meet with the militant organization’s leadership at a secret location. North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan to the west, is considered a stronghold for the militant organization as well as other groups like the Haqqani network.
On Tuesday, they met with negotiators representing the government to discuss their trip. Speaking after the meeting, Pakistani cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads the Taliban’s negotiating team, said both the militants and the government have recommended a cease-fire as a confidence-building measure.
He said the Taliban had given other recommendations as well and had sought some clarification on the government’s stance but he did not reveal what those were.
But attacks like Tuesday’s show just how difficult it would be to implement a cease-fire.
The Pakistani Taliban have distanced themselves from the recent violence and in some cases issued outright denials.
But analysts say the group is an amorphous organization where many of the factions act on their own, sometimes even in conflict with the group’s leadership.
“That is going to be the problem because even if by any chance some kind of agreement is reached, several of the factions may not accept it,” said Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani security analyst.