PESHAWAR -- Minority groups in Pakistan, who have been targeted by terrorists for decades, are praising Pakistani law enforcement agencies for ensuring their continued safety and security.
A September 2 attack on Christian Colony, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Peshawar, put Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) minorities on edge, but the swift response of the security forces and their quick arrest of suspected culprits have given them a renewed sense of relief.
Now, they say, they feel more secure than ever.
Jamatul Ahrar, an offshoot of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack on Warsak Road. The terrorists, wearing suicide vests, exchanged fire with security forces backed by army helicopters. All four were killed, the Pakistani military said in a statement.
Two soldiers, a police officer and two civilian security guards were injured.
Pakistani security forces soon afterward arrested three suspected facilitators of the attack, army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa told Pakistan Forward September 26. A fourth suspect might have fled to Afghanistan.
Law enforcement agencies have gleaned more leads that will prevent other planned attacks, Bajwa said.
Bajwa called the arrest of the three suspects "a major breakthrough".
Meanwhile, to prevent cross-border terrorist attacks, Pakistani forces are busy building fortifications along the Afghan border. They have completed 20% of the outposts planned for that border and have deployed troops in those posts, Bajwa said.
"[Counter-terrorist Operation] Khyber III is proceeding successfully along the Pakistani-Afghan border," he said. "The Rajgal area has been cleared. We are setting up posts to ward off all threats of infiltration."
Since July, Pakistani forces have carried out 1,470 intelligence-based operations, foiled 14 terrorist attacks and arrested the entire network involved in the September 2 suicide bombing of the Mardan District courts, he said.
That suicide bombing claimed 13 lives.
Praise for Operation Zarb-e-Azb
"The non-Muslim community has much praise for such a quick arrest of the Christian Colony attack facilitators, and [we] would like to see them tried and punished as soon as possible," said Haroon Sarab Dayal of Peshawar, chairman of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement and a member of the National Lobbying Delegation for Minority Rights.
"Law enforcement agencies' counter-measures have improved greatly, which lets common citizens breathe a sigh of relief," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Peshawarites will agree that life is more secure than it was five years ago," he added, crediting Operation Zarb-e-Azb with "breaking the backbone of the terror network".
The army began Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014 in North Waziristan. The offensive continues today.
"We are out to defend our nation and Pakistan," Peshawar Sikh community leader and Awami National Party (ANP) central working committee member Sardar Jitandar Singh told Pakistan Forward.
"The failed attack on Christian Colony indicates that our law enforcement agencies are ready to thwart any cowardly attack from the terrorists," he said. "The break-up of the terror network involved in the Christian Colony and Mardan court attacks is a great achievement of the law enforcers."
"We ought to win this war, and we won't allow terrorists to take Pakistanis hostage," he said. "Whether Muslims or non-Muslims, we are all united to fight them."
The Pakistani Christian community is grateful to law enforcement for preventing disaster at Warsak Road and for arresting the culprits, Peshawar lawyer Shaukat Ghulam said.
"Targeting minorities is only a conspiracy to defame Pakistan," he told Pakistan Forward. "We bring the message that the [terrorists] cannot defeat Pakistanis, whether Christian, Hindu, Sikh or any others. They are all one."
Special measures are necessary to protect other Christian enclaves in KP and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he said.
"But it is highly encouraging that [law enforcement] dismantled the networks that planned the attacks on Christian Colony and on the Mardan courts."
Law enforcement on high alert
"The arrest and killing of the Christian Colony and Mardan attackers are a very clear message that law enforcement agencies are on high alert to foil these terrorists' designs," said Nighat Orakzai, a female member of the KP Provincial Assembly.
"We have to respond quickly, as we did in the case of the Christian Colony attack," University of Peshawar student Sadia Iqbal said. "It is a clear message [to the terrorists]: Do not dare attack us in the dark; our forces are ready to take you on."
The quick capture of the suspects in the Christian Colony episode "is a great success and a morale booster for law enforcement as well as for the general public", Rahim Dil Yar, a student at a college in Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.