MONDAY’S attack on soldiers in Gujrat was a stark reminder that home-grown militants still have the intention, and the means, to target security forces outside the tribal areas. The pace of such attacks has slowed down, and there have been no recent incidents on the scale of PNS Mehran or GHQ, so some progress against this threat has been made over the last couple of years. But the ease with which this most recent assault took place indicates that the danger persists and that the quality of preventive intelligence-gathering, and even of routine surveillance around a military presence, is still not where it needs to be.
Second, the incident was a reminder of the militant nexus connecting settled areas to Fata-based militancy. It is not entirely clear whether the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which has claimed responsibility, was involved directly, or if the attack was carried out by Punjab-based militants affiliated with it. But it is plain that Punjab is still vulnerable to violent extremism and anti-state activity that is made possible by links that stretch from Fata to the province.
What remains missing is official messaging that can inform Pakistanis about the real nature of this threat — that it is home-grown and focused on the destruction of the Pakistani state as it exists today. The view that such attacks are carried out by foreign hands, for example, or that they are justified because of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, are alarmingly common. But each incident can also be used as an opportunity to fight these misperceptions. The concept of the so-called Punjabi Taliban still remains a murky one in terms of who is involved, who they are linked to, and what their aims are. And not all sensitive information about these groups can be shared publicly. But this is not a war that can be fought without citizens’ support, and some amount of disclosure about how these groups are weakening Pakistan could help build a national consensus against militancy and improve intelligence-gathering by making citizens responsive to suspicious activity in their communities.