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AN accidental explosion in Karachi on Saturday evening has once again laid bare the serious and continuing threat the city faces from terrorist violence. According to media reports yesterday, one of the alleged terrorists who survived the explosion in the Patel Para neighbourhood of Karachi claimed that he and his accomplices who died in the blast were planning an attack on processions marking an important day in the Shia calendar. Neither the plot nor the target is particularly surprising. Karachi has been and remains a dangerous sectarian flashpoint. What is cause for alarm, though, is the manner in which the plot was exposed. Had the would-be bombers proved more skilful at assembling bombs, Karachi may have discovered the bombers only after they had carried out a successful strike. The short-run measures that can be taken to avoid more sectarian carnage in the days ahead are seemingly being taken: the police are coordinating with Shia leaders and intelligence agencies to secure the Yaum-i-Ali procession route and ensure a peaceful day.

Yet, that still leaves the larger problem of sectarian and other terrorist cells able to blend in all too easily in one of Karachi’s many teeming neighbourhoods and plan and plot attacks with near impunity. The only effective responses to this long-standing threat are well known by now: better resourced and trained police; minimising political interference in law enforcement; enhanced coordination across civilian and military intelligence agencies; and a gradual rebuilding of trust between the citizenry and the state — perhaps in better times, neighbours may have reported the suspicious behaviour, if any, of the occupants of the apartment that was blown up. In Karachi’s case, of course, the problems are compounded: an uneasy relationship between the PPP government in Sindh and the PML-N government at the centre, as well as an uneasy relationship between the MQM, which dominates Karachi, and the PPP, which dominates rural Sindh. But if Karachi’s legitimate leadership continues to abdicate its responsibilities to the city, the terrorists will surely demonstrate what they are capable of.