NYC Pakistanis Shocked by Attack

A candlelight vigil was held the evening of Dec. 16 for victims of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan (Photo by Mohsen Zaheer for Voices of NY)

A candlelight vigil was held the evening of Dec. 16 for victims of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer for Voices of NY)

The Pakistani community in New York and across the U.S. and Canada is in a state of shock after a terrorist attack Dec. 16 on a military-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar killed at least 148 people, including at least 132 children, and left scores injured.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (an umbrella group of Pakistani extremists which has declared allegiance to Afghanistan’s Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar) accepted responsibility for the attack. The group said it was in retaliation for Pakistan’s military operation – known as Zarb-e-Azb – against extremists in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal regions along the country’s porous border with Afghanistan. Interestingly, in a rare snub to their comrades, the Afghan Taliban condemned the attack.

In New York, Pakistanis were overwhelmed by the news from home. “They spilled innocent blood in the city of flowers,” said Faiq Siddiqui, crying on camera in his television studios in Long Island City while conducting an unscheduled call-in show “Let’s Talk.”

According to Riaz Babar, producer of the show, 91 callers phoned in from across the U.S. and Canada and the show was extended beyond an hour. “Pakistan must crush these fanatics with an iron fist before these beasts kill any more of our children,” pleaded one caller from Pennsylvania.

He was endorsing the ongoing military operation in Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions, in which the military claims to have killed more than 1,500 militants who want to impose their brand of Islamic Shariah on the Pakistani state.

Remembering the Taliban's most recent victims in Pakistan at a vigil in Jackson Heights, Queens on Dec. 16 (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer for Voices of NY)

Remembering the Taliban’s most recent victims in Pakistan at a vigil in Jackson Heights, Queens on Dec. 16. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer for Voices of NY)

New York’s Pakistani press also weighed in on the attacks. “All political players must unite to fight terrorism if Pakistan is to be saved from total annihilation,” said Pakistan Post, a New York-based leading Urdu-language weekly, in a long editorial. “If it does not happen,” the editorial cautioned, “then the world’s seventh largest army, despite its sacrifices, seems to be headed to a defeat in its war against terrorism. Success in war always needs an organized nation more than an organized army, something Pakistan is distinctly missing,” it concluded.

The evening of Dec. 16, the mood was somber and aggrieved outside Dera Restaurant, a popular Pakistani eatery in Jackson Heights, Queens, where dozens of Pakistanis and members of other communities joined a vigil to pay their respects to the victims of the carnage.

A few yards away, a larger group formed later in the evening at Diversity Plaza in rainy weather. A similar protest was held earlier during the day on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, considered to be home to the largest concentration of Pakistani Americans in New York.

Community organizations held special prayers Wednesday evening Dec. 17 at the Makki Masjid on Coney Island Avenue which were attended by Pakistan’s Consul General Raja Ali Ejaz. Later a vigil was held outside the mosque. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council members Mathieu Eugene and Jumaane Williams, as well as the consul general and several community members were in attendance. There were reports of plans for other vigils in cities across the U.S.

The Pakistani Consulate on 65th Street in Manhattan has opened a condolence book.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced a three-day period of mourning while an all-parties conference involving Pakistan’s top politicians decided to formulate a strategy within a week to defeat terrorism and end distinctions between the so-called “good and bad Taliban.”

Islamabad has for years been accused of following a duplicitous policy on Taliban – fighting the Pakistani Taliban and giving sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network.

Gen. Raheel Sharif (not related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif), Pakistan’s military chief, flew to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul for a day-long visit hours after the deadly attack on the Peshawar school. Pakistani media reported that the terrorists were getting instructions over cell phone from their handlers, sitting most probably in Afghanistan.

“The intercepts suggest that the cell phone SIMs registered in Afghanistan were used for the communication,” Saleem Safi, a leading analyst, told a Pakistani television channel while quoting unnamed sources. Pakistan has often accused Afghanistan of harboring the TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, who is thought to be behind the Dec. 16 atrocity.

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