Lahore blast

Published March 29, 2016

TO the despair and horror of a nation it has become clear that not all terrorist acts are equal.

While all lives are equal and the loss of every citizen, young and old, is rightly and necessarily mourned, some terrorist acts are so grotesque and shocking that the mind struggles to comprehend them.

Terror once again struck Pakistan on Sunday, but this time it attempted to tear at the very fabric of humanity. A crowded recreational park on an Easter Sunday overflowing with families, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, was what the Jamaatul Ahrar deliberately and purposefully targeted.

As the scale of the carnage that apparently a suicide bomber left behind became obvious, it was clear that something in Pakistan had changed.

The long fight against militancy has entered an even darker and uncertain new phase. The immediate question, though, was how? With the political and military leaderships vowing week in and week out to prosecute the fight against militancy and terrorism relentlessly and everywhere, how was a suicide bomber able to operate so easily and reach the middle of a huge crowd?

Critical as that question is, past experience suggests that neither are lessons learned nor is accountability practised.

The country’s leaders simply tell us that absolutely everything will be done to keep the public safe — until nothing is done and something terrible occurs. Then the vows of action are renewed. This time perhaps the military and political leaderships of the country do mean to do something more to fight terrorism — particularly in Punjab, but across the country too. The TTP faction/splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar originated in Mohmand Agency.

It is believed to have found sanctuary along the Pak-Afghan border in eastern Afghanistan and has recruited militants from Punjab to its cause. To defeat groups like the banned TTP, a truly national action plan will be required — not the piecemeal actions that have been taken so far.

Yet, Punjab has long loomed as the biggest unaddressed problem. Fata has witnessed multiple military operations, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have been zones of conflict for well over a decade and Karachi is undergoing a sustained anti-criminal, anti-militant operation.

Punjab — because of its size, because of the scale of the militant problem there and because the problem has largely remained unaddressed over the years — is where the war against militancy now needs to be seriously fought.

But the war will not be won if the military and civilian leadership do not learn to fight together and in complementary ways.

In the recent past, when the military has insisted rather than tried to convince the civilian leadership, the results have been uneven: the National Action Plan; Fata reforms and IDP resettlement; and the Karachi operation.

If the same happens with a new, bigger counter-terrorism phase in Punjab, the results could be devastating for Punjab — and the country. The political and military leadership must act quickly, but definitely together.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016

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