Shooting down China’s surveillance balloon could be a good thing for US-China relations. Team Biden has been dithering for days over strategy
February 3, 2023 9:23am EST
It sure looks to me like China is taunting the Biden administration with this ridiculous spy balloon flight. Or, maybe China’s military just screwed up by sending over a giant marshmallow loitering spy balloon days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s long-anticipated visit to Beijing.
Both alternatives are scary. And either way, China’s spy balloon is a real slap in the face.
The balloon is trying to park high above airliner traffic, in unregulated airspace, and scoop up military data.
Honestly, the best thing for U.S.-China relations might be to shoot down this balloon. China’s foreign ministry sounded in a bit of a panic Friday with their spokesperson hoping “both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully.”
I guarantee you this balloon was tracked by U.S. and Canadian officials out over the Pacific. The White House has been dithering for days. Pity poor Blinken drinking tea in China while the balloon drifts over our nuclear bases.
It’s not the first time China’s intruded into American airspace, the Pentagon hinted Thursday. However, they had to acknowledge that the behavior of this balloon is a bit different.
Do you think for a moment that China would hesitate to shoot down a U.S. balloon?
Just look at the flight path. The spy balloon flight was timed to ride the winter jet stream for a pass along the Air Force’s northern tier missile and nuclear bomber bases. For example, Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base where 150 Minuteman III nuclear missile silos are spread over a wide area.
China is building large new nuclear missile fields, so maybe they wanted pictures of ours, like the drone footage you see on real estate websites. Except that as everyone knows, China has plenty of satellites capable of taking pictures. In fact, China doubled their satellites on orbit between 2019 and 2021, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
So, another strong possibility is that China wants the balloon to loiter in American skies long enough to detect radio, cell phone and other electronic communications often called “signals intelligence.” Swap “eyes in the sky” for “ears in the sky.”
From a tactical perspective, there’s still time to shoot this thing down. The Air Force F-22 stealth fighters mentioned by the Pentagon could easily track and target China’s balloon.
Picture the balloon bobbing along at 60,000 feet, as the Pentagon reported. The F-22 Raptor is the world’s most advanced fighter and carries a radar that can see dust grains on Mars.
Do you think for a moment that China would hesitate to shoot down a U.S. balloon? As I recall, the U.S. started flying drones into China’s airspace in the 1960s to collect data on China’s budding nuclear weapons programs. The wreckage of one supersonic DF-21 drone ended up in a Chinese aviation museum.
If Biden opts not to shoot down this balloon, there had better be consequences meted out to China in some form. China has no reason to send balloons to gather data on American nuclear bases. We have implored China to join nuclear arms control. Xi Jinping says no.
Back to China’s motives. It is entirely possible that the Chinese military authorized the balloon flight with no coordination regarding Blinken’s visit. This type of behavior is a worry because it reveals a clumsy approach to China’s internal command and control. How do you deter such a sloppy adversary?
Yet I wonder what is truly more dangerous: the spy balloon, or the quiet damage China’s already done to America. Collecting a little SIGINT with a balloon pales in comparison to the long-running penetration of so many levels of American society by interests of the Chinese Communist Party.
Let me give you just one example. Over in North Dakota, a Chinese-controlled company wants to build a corn wet milling plant on 370 acres they purchased near Grand Forks Air Force Base. Just imagine: a huge corn plant, far away from the main customers and replicating the work of 19 other major corn refining plants already running throughout the Midwest.
A Brahmos launcher during a rehearsal for the India’s 2011 Republic Day Parade. In 2021, an India Brahmos missile test misfired into Pakistani territory, sparking concerns of escalation between the rival nuclear powers. Photo: PIB
Southern Asia — India, Pakistan and China — is the only place on earth where three nuclear-armed states have recently engaged in violent confrontations along their contested borders. As a USIP senior study group report concluded last year, the problem of nuclear stability in Southern Asia is getting harder to manage because of geopolitical changes, such as rising India-China border tensions, as well as evolving military technologies, including growing nuclear arsenals and more capable delivery systems. Unfortunately, in the time since that senior study group completed its work, little has happened to revise its worrisome conclusion or to prevent the most likely triggering causes of a nuclearised crisis in Southern Asia. To the contrary, there are some good reasons to fear that the situation in Southern Asia has even deteriorated over the past year.
No one wants nuclear escalation — but it can still happen
To be clear, just because states invest in nuclear weapons and delivery systems does not mean that a crisis or war is imminent. Leaders in China, India and Pakistan have always viewed their nuclear arsenals primarily as tools of deterrence, less for practical warfighting than to convince adversaries of the extraordinary costs that a war would risk. Nor do any of the region’s leaders take their nuclear programs lightly; all feel tremendous incentives to keep their arsenals safe and secure and to build systems of command, control and communications intended to prevent accidents, unauthorised use or theft.
Nevertheless, because even a single nuclear detonation could be massively destructive, US policymakers have an obligation not to accept these sorts of logical assurances passively or uncritically. Accidents do happen. India’s misfire of a Brahmos missile test into Pakistan last year proved that point perfectly. No matter how well designed, nuclear systems are complicated and involve the potential for human or technical error. When something does go wrong, overreaction by opposing forces is less likely when they have a greater degree of confidence in, and knowledge of, the other side. Reliable and secure communications — in the form of hotlines — can help, but only to the point that they are actually used in a timely manner. Apparently, India failed to do so during the Brahmos incident.
Fear, hatred and other emotions can cloud human judgment, especially in the heat of a crisis when information is imperfect and communication difficult. Reflecting on his own experience of crisis management in Southern Asia, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently wrote that he does “not think the world properly knows just how close the India-Pakistan rivalry came to spilling over into a nuclear conflagration in February 2019.” The question — for Pompeo and current US policymakers — is what more they are doing now to prepare for the next crisis.
Fortunately, a February 2021 cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan holds, supplemented at times by a widely rumoured “backchannel” dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. Then again, it is a measure of the low level of our collective expectations for India-Pakistan relations that the bare agreement not to actively shoot artillery shells across their border and to participate in sporadic, secret talks is considered progress.
The terrorism tinderbox
A return to serious India-Pakistan crisis could be just one terrorist attack away. Not even when Pakistan suffered devastating floods last summer could leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi create sufficient political space to open basic commodity trade. Hostile rhetoric is high, and there is reason to anticipate it could get far worse over the coming year as national leaders on both sides prepare for elections. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has learned he can whip up domestic political support from tough talk and cross-border retaliation. In Pakistan, neither civilian nor army leaders can afford to look weak in the face of Indian attacks, especially when they face jingoistic (if transparently opportunistic) criticism from ousted prime minister Imran Khan.
The prospect of anti-Indian terrorism is also growing. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan shows no greater commitment to eliminating terrorist safe havens than it did in the 1990s, and Pakistan’s will (and capacity) for keeping a lid on cross-border terrorism will be tested as it faces heightened security and economic pressures at home. In addition, India’s repression of its Muslim minority community, especially in Kashmir, is simultaneously a reaction to past anti-state militancy and nearly guaranteed to inspire new acts of violence.
No matter the specific cause or circumstances of anti-Indian militancy, Modi’s government is likely to attribute culpability to Pakistan. That, in turn, raises the potential for an emotionally charged crisis that could, under the wrong circumstances, spiral into another India-Pakistan war.
Nor can Pakistan afford only to worry about its border with India. Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have deteriorated drastically ever since the Taliban swept back into power. Rather than controlling Afghanistan through its favoured militant proxies, Pakistan is suffering a surge in violence on its own soil, most recently the devastating bombing of a police mosque in Peshawar claimed by the anti-state Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Such violence, along with national political turmoil, environmental calamity and economic crisis, will raise concerns among some in the United States about threats to the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear enterprise. Sadly, that will probably lead Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division — the guardians of its nuclear arsenal — and other Pakistani military leaders to fear a phantom threat of American military intervention rather than to address actual causes of the Pakistani state’s fragility.
India-China tensions rise
Events along the contested border between India and China hardly inspire confidence that New Delhi and Beijing have found a path back to normal relations after their bloody border skirmishes of 2020. To the contrary, the prospects of rapid military escalation have grown, principally because both sides have positioned greater numbers of more lethal forces close to the border. Before 2020, relatively small, unarmed Chinese and Indian patrols routinely risked coming into contact as they pressed territorial claims on the un-demarcated border. This was dangerous, but extremely unlikely to escalate rapidly into a serious military encounter. In early December 2022 hundreds of Chinese troops attacked an Indian camp in what could not possibly have been an unplanned operation. With tens of thousands of troops stationed not far away, conventional military escalation is far more plausible than it was just a few years ago.
Although there is still a long way between remote mountain warfare and a nuclear crisis, at least some Indian security officials anticipate a future of more routine border violence as troops on both sides become more entrenched. China and India are also jockeying in the Indian Ocean, where China’s increasing naval presence and influence with India’s smaller neighbours feed Indian insecurities and encourage New Delhi to seek countervailing defence ties with Quad partners (Japan, Australia and the United States) as well as other naval powers, like France.
Against this backdrop of tensions, China’s growing nuclear, missile and surveillance capabilities will look more threatening to Indian nuclear defence planners. New Delhi may even come to fear that China is developing a first strike so devastating that it would effectively eliminate India’s retaliatory response and, as a consequence, diminish the threat of its nuclear deterrent. In response, India could seek to demonstrate that it has thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying Chinese cities in one blow as well as more nuclear submarines capable of evading China’s first strike.
A ‘cascading security dilemma’
Not only would those Indian moves raise serious policy questions for the United States, but they would demonstrate the region’s “cascading security dilemma,” by which military capabilities intended to deter one adversary tend to inspire dangerous insecurities in another. When India arms itself to deter China, Pakistan perceives new threats from India and will likely pursue enhanced capabilities of its own. In a worst-case scenario, Southern Asia could be entering an accelerated nuclear arms race in which uneven waves of new investments in capabilities and delivery systems will alter perceptions of deterrence and stability in dangerously unpredictable ways.
All told, US policymakers have at least as many reasons for concern about strategic stability in Southern Asia as when USIP launched its report last spring. Old triggers for escalation, like terrorist attacks against India, persist, while newer storms are brewing. As that earlier report explained, Washington cannot solve Southern Asia’s troubles alone, but neither can it afford to stand aloof or to downplay their seriousness.
Daniel Markey is Senior Advisor, South Asia Programs at the United States Institute of Peace.
That is the concerning revelation shared by Daily Star on Wednesday after a Russian broadcast threatened to “obliterate” the UK and permanently submerge the nation underwater.
According to the broadcast, which was uploaded to Twitter via an account called Terror Alarm, Putin’s chief propaganda reporter Dmitry Kiselyov claimed two Russian super-nukes launched from Moscow could “wipe the British Isles off the map.”
“Russia could obliterate the UK with its new hypersonic Satan-2 missile,” Kiselyov said before adding that Russia is poised to “plunge Britain into the depths of the sea using underwater robotic drone Poseidon”.
“It would only take a minute,” Putin allegedly told Johnson when the then-prime minister told the Russian leader that a war against Ukraine would be an “utter catastrophe.”
Russia’s recent threat to nuke the UK also comes shortly after Ukraine’s Western allies agreed to send tanks and other military arms to the invaded nation – something Russia called “extremely dangerous.”
“Red lines are now a thing of the past,” a Kremlin spokesperson cryptically said at the time.
The Admiral Gorshkov, which was scheduled to sail to the Black Sea before abruptly diverting towards the U.S. and Bermuda last week, is reportedly outfitted with nuclear-capable Zircon missiles that move at speeds up to 6,670 MPH and have a maximum range of 625 miles.
Putin’s navy has also reportedly been running missile tests involving the Admiral Gorshkov and the Mach 9 Zircon missiles, with the ship’s commander – Captain Igor Krokhmal – indicating in a recent video the weapons are allegedly working as expected.
“The electronic launch and the work by the shipborne combat team confirmed the missile system’s designed characteristics demonstrated during preliminary and state trials,” Krokhmal said last week.
While the balloon was, the Pentagon said, “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic” and did “not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”, its presence sparked outrage.
Former US President Donald Trump was among those calling for the US military to shoot it down.
On Friday, China finally acknowledged the balloon was its property, saying that it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research, which deviated from its route because of bad weather.
A statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said that it regretted the incident and would work with the US to resolve the issue.
However, the state department official said that while the US acknowledged China’s claim about the balloon’s purpose, it stood the assessment that it was being used for surveillance.
Another trip by Mr Blinken to China would be planned “at the earliest opportunity” the official said, adding that Washington planned to maintain “open lines of communication” about the incident.
Mr Blinken had been expected to visit China on 5 and 6 February.
A US official quoted by the Associated Press said that the decision to abruptly halt the trip was made by Mr Blinken and President Joe Biden.
Mr Biden did not take questions about the balloon following remarks about the US economy on Friday morning.
According to US officials, the balloon flew over Alaska and Canada before appearing in the US state of Montana, which is home to a number of sensitive military missile sites.
Although fighter planes were alerted, the US decided not to shoot the object down due to the dangers of falling debris, officials said.
Several Republican lawmakers – as well as former President Donald Trump – have criticised the decision and urged the US to down the balloon.
“Shoot down the balloon,” Mr Trump said in a short message on his Truth Social social media platform.
While US officials have not commented on the size and details of the suspected spy balloon, Chinese officials have previously publicly expressed interest in the potential military and intelligence-gathering potential of balloons.
“Technological advances have opened a new door for the use of balloons,” an article in the military-run Liberation Army Daily said last year.
In 2022, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it detected Chinese balloons over its territory.
While the nuclear risk may or may not happen, the Doomsday Clock has in recent years also been tracking the climate crisis with growing alarm, writes John Gibbons
Wed, 01 Feb, 2023 – 17:56
Today, a century and a half later, his opening lines from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ still ring true. There are more people alive now than at any other time in history, and more are living free from the shackles of abject poverty, hunger, disease and early death than ever before.
By many objective measures, especially for those of us in prosperous, stable countries like Ireland, these are indeed the very best of times. We enjoy levels of personal freedom, material wealth, comfort and physical well-being almost unimaginable even to our grandparents’ generation.
Paradoxically, we also live in an age of foolishness and incredulity, that threatens to propel humanity into an endless winter of despair. Last week, a panel of international scientists who maintain the so-called Doomsday Clock, moved its hands ominously forward, to 90 seconds to midnight.
The clock was first established by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, just two years after the devastating killing power of nuclear weapons was first unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For the first time in history, humanity was now a planetary force, capable of triggering a global catastrophe on a par with an asteroid strike. Such god-like power should come with commensurate responsibility, and the Doomsday Clock was set up as a stark visual reminder of the limits of our power.
In the three-quarters of a century since then, the clock has ticked back and forth in synch with the ebb and flow of world events. In 1953, it moved to two minutes to midnight following the test detonation of the devastatingly powerful hydrogen bomb. That had, in the assessment of the scientific panel, been our most dangerous moment — until now.
Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is the principal reason for the unprecedented pessimism in 2023. Vladimir Putin’s bellicose rhetoric since then has included repeated thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons. This was repeated in recent days by former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, who warned darkly that his country’s defeat in Ukraine could lead to a nuclear strike by Russia.
The Russian invasion has also severely damaged international efforts at nuclear non-proliferation. Ukraine handed over its entire Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to the Russian Federation under a 1994 treaty signed in Budapest in which Russia, the US and Britain solemnly agreed to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”.
Many in Ukraine and beyond are wondering if the only true deterrent to an aggressive neighbour is to have your own nuclear weapons. Russia’s recklessness extends to what the scientists call its “violation of international protocols and risking of the widespread release of radioactive materials” in its capture of the nuclear reactor sites at Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl.
With the heightened risk of an intentional or accidental nuclear incident, “the possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high”, the report warned.
While the nuclear risk remains binary – it may or may not happen – the Doomsday Clock has in recent years also been tracking the climate crisis with growing alarm.
The war in Ukraine has occurred at the worst possible moment as it “undermines global efforts to combat climate change…and has led to expanded investment in natural gas exactly when such investment should have been shrinking”, the report warned.
As a uniquely global crisis, effective efforts to tackle the climate emergency “require faith in multilateral governance”, which the scientists say has been weakened by the “geopolitical fissure opened by the invasion of Ukraine”.
Having stumbled in the past into dangerous nuclear stand-offs, the hope is that once again sense will prevail and a nuclear disaster will be avoided. However, the climate crisis is an altogether different threat. Here, for a cataclysm to unfold simply requires that the international community fails to act in line with the science.
Division, disinformation, social media-fuelled polarisation and the resurgence of political extremism all undermine our faith in science and reason at the very moment in human history when we need to come together like never before.
ByMichael Callahan, Jennifer Hansler and Haley Britzky, CNNWire
Tuesday, January 31, 2023 1:10PM
Russia has stepped up its offensive attacks in Eastern Ukraine with a missile hitting a residential area.
Russia is violating a key nuclear arms control agreement with the United States and continuing to refuse to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday.
“Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory. Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control,” the spokesperson said in statement.
“Russia has also failed to comply with the New START Treaty obligation to convene a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission in accordance with the treaty-mandated timeline,” the spokesperson added.
In December, Putin warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war, and this month, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, threatened that Russia losing the war could “provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war.”
“Nuclear powers do not lose major conflicts on which their fate depends,” Medvedev wrote in a Telegram post. “This should be obvious to anyone. Even to a Western politician who has retained at least some trace of intelligence.”
And though a US intelligence assessment in November suggested that Russian military officials discussed under what circumstances Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the US has not seen any evidence that Putin has decided to take the drastic step of using one, officials told CNN.
Under the New START treaty — the only agreement left regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals — Washington and Moscow are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, inspections have been halted since 2020.
A session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission on the treaty was slated to meet in Egypt in late November but was abruptly called off. The US has blamed Russia for this postponement, with a State Department spokesperson saying the decision was made “unilaterally” by Russia.
The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides will soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.
“Russia has a clear path for returning to full compliance. All Russia needs to do is allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under the New START Treaty, and meet in a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission,” the spokesperson said. “There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from traveling to the United States and conducting inspections.”
According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Russia has roughly 5,977 nuclear warheads, 1,588 of which are deployed. The US has 5,550 nuclear warheads, according to the Center, including 3,800 active warheads.
On Monday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the last remaining element of the bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with the United States could expire in three years without a replacement.
Asked if Moscow could envisage there being no nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations when the extension of the 2011 New START Treaty comes to an end after 2026, Ryabkov told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday: “This is a very possible scenario.”
In brief: While the US has further tightened restrictions on chip-related exports to China recently, there are some entities in the country that have been on an export blacklist for decades. One of these is China’s top nuclear-weapons research institute, but that hasn’t stopped it from regularly buying Intel and Nvidia hardware.
The state-run China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP) was one of the first to be placed on a US export blacklist in 1997 because of its work in the field of nuclear weapons, preventing it from purchasing American technology. However, according to a Wall Street Journal report, the institute has obtained US hardware at least a dozen times since 2020, including Intel’s Xeon Gold processors and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX graphics cards, for use in academy computers.
Intel and Nvidia cannot sell their products directly to the CAEP; instead, the institute bought them from Chinese marketplaces such as Taobao, Aliexpress, and other resellers. A WSJ review of CAEP-published research papers found at least 34 over the last decade referenced using American semiconductors in its research. The laboratory studies computational fluid dynamics, a broad scientific field that includes modeling nuclear explosions; physicists at CAEP helped develop the country’s first hydrogen bomb.
Used for high framerates and nuclear-weapons modeling
The revelation illustrates the difficulty in enforcing US export restrictions on China. Nvidia said the millions of PCs sold worldwide means it cannot control where its products end up. Intel said it complies with export regulations and sanctions and so must its distributors and customers.
“It is insanely difficult to enforce the U.S. restrictions when it comes to transactions overseas,” former top Commerce Department official Kevin Wolf told the WSJ.
The Department of Defense said China has been accelerating its nuclear weapons development in recent years. The People’s Liberation Army currently has more than 400 warheads, a figure that could reach about 1,500 by 2035 if the current rate of expansion continues.
With the export restrictions in place, China has been trying to create its own chips, a plan the US is trying to scupper by prohibiting the sale of advanced chipmaking tools to the Asian nation. The Biden administration recently came to an agreement with the Netherlands and Japan that will see the two countries impose their own export controls on chipmaking equipment to China.
Andrey Gurulyov, a State Duma member and former military commander, made the comments during a discussion on a show broadcast on the Kremlin-controlled Russia-1 network.
In a panel moderated by host Vladimir Solovyov, Gurulyov said that Americans “won’t come to their senses” until they “get hit with a nuke on their skull,” according to a translated clip posted on the Russian Media Monitor YouTube channel by journalist Julia Davis.
Gurulyov also said that a Russian strike involving nuclear weapons was the only path forward to ensure lasting peace.
“There is no other way to talk to these fools,” Gurulyov said before adding that people have tried unsuccessfully to convince him otherwise.
“Today, considering our strategic initiative—and right now we have it for sure—along with our current successes, I very much want for us to envision the future,” Gurulyov said. “We should make plans beyond the horizon so that we know what happens in one year, three years, five years and 10 years and harshly move toward it in this paradigm.
Putin no longer leading Ukraine effort, Girkin says: “A complete failure”
“We will win, 100 percent. Where? Everywhere! Everywhere! And this is by far not about Ukraine. Everywhere!”
Gurulyov continued by saying that Russia is a country that brings peace to the world.
“Russia was, is and will be a great nation, capable of bringing peace,” he said. “Peace is the key word! We bring peace and calm!”
The comments from Gurulyov about striking the U.S. are not his only recent talk of nuclear war.
Gurulyov made those remarks while discussing a statement from U.S. President Joe Biden that condemned the idea that Russia could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Gurulyov said his country would not resort to using nukes in Ukraine because Russian people would eventually settle there.
“Biden says there would be a reaction, per their Article 5, but if we turn the British Isles into a Martian desert in three minutes flat, using tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones, they could use Article 5, but for whom?” Gurulyov said. “A nonexistent country, turned into a Martian desert? They won’t respond.”
Newsweek reached out to the White House and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
PUBLISHED: January 30, 2023 at 5:24 a.m. | UPDATED: January 30, 2023 at 10:28 a.m.
By Riaz Khan | Associated Press
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomber struck a crowded mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan on Monday, causing the roof to collapse and killing at least 59 people and wounding more than 150 others, officials said.
Most of the casualties were police officers. It was not clear how the bomber was able to slip into the walled compound, which houses the police headquarters in the northwestern city of Peshawar and is itself located in a high-security zone with other government buildings.
Pakistan, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their cease-fire with government forces.
Earlier this month, in another attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, a gunman shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the country’s military-based spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said Monday the gunman was traced and killed in a shootout in the northwest near the Afghan border.
Monday’s assault on a Sunni mosque inside the police facility was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.
The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan in the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province it has long used as its base.
More than 300 worshippers were praying in the mosque, with more approaching, when the bomber set off his explosives vest. Many were injured when the roof came down, according to Zafar Khan, a police officer, and rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to reach worshippers still trapped under the rubble.
Meena Gul, who was in the mosque when the bomb went off, said he doesn’t know how he survived unhurt. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard cries and screams after the blast.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesman at the main government hospital in Peshawar, put the death toll at 59, with 157 others wounded. Police official Siddique Khan the bomber blew himself up while among the worshippers.
Senior police and government officials attended the funerals of 30 police officers and arrangements to bury the rest were being made. Coffins were wrapped in the Pakistani flag their bodies were later handed over to relatives for burials.
The Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops pulled out of the country after 20 years of war.
The Pakistani government’s truce with the TTP ended as the country was still contending with unprecedented flooding that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes, and at one point submerged as much as a third of the country.
Mohmand, of the militant organization, said a fighter carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Abdul Wali, who was widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, and was killed in neighboring Afghanistan’s Paktika province in August 2022.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was “saddened to learn that numerous people lost their lives and many others were injured by an explosion at a mosque in Peshawar” and condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Condemnations also came from the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad, as well as the U.S. Embassy, adding that “The United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the bombing “particularly abhorrent” for targeting a place of worship, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Cash-strapped Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial installment of $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund — part of its $6 billion bailout package — to avoid default. Talks with the IMF on reviving the bailout have stalled in the past months.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the bombing a “terrorist suicide attack.” He tweeted: “My prayers & condolences go to victims families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”
Sharif’s government came to power in April after Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif dismiss Khan’s claims.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.