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Terror in the heartland again

Published Feb 15, 2017 01:12am


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LIKE so many past terrorist attacks, there was forewarning of the latest suicide bombing that struck Lahore on Monday. Yet the carnage could not be prevented. Despite the alert, the bomber managed to reach his target, killing over a dozen people including two senior police officers. The incident occurred right in the heart of the provincial capital — a grim reminder of the impunity enjoyed by terrorist networks.

It doesn’t matter which militant faction operating from the sanctuary across the border in Afghanistan claims responsibility; the fact is that the attack was facilitated by a network working inside the country. The Lahore attack is yet another example of our failure to act in a timely fashion on an intelligence warning and avert tragedy.

It happened at a time we are trying to convince the world that terrorists are on the run and our major cities are safe to hold international sporting and cultural events. For sure, the level of militant violence has come down significantly compared to previous years. But the latest attack shows how easy it is for the militants to regroup and launch spectacular attacks with the state still reluctant to act against the major sources of militancy without exception.

The Lahore bombing was waiting to happen.

Given this state of affairs, it is not surprising to see terrorism rearing its ugly head yet again. The Charing Cross bombing has validated Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s indictment of state institutions, particularly of the federal interior ministry, for failing to act more effectively against proscribed militant and sectarian groups operating under new banners. The Justice Isa commission report on the Quetta hospital bombing last August, which wiped out almost an entire generation of senior lawyers in Balochistan, was released in December.

Instead of accepting responsibility, the interior minister had angrily dismissed the allegation. The Lahore attack does not need a new commission of inquiry but it does require that Justice Isa’s report be taken more seriously and its recommendations implemented. Though the federal and the provincial governments deny the threat, Punjab is sitting on a powder keg. The province is the hub of violent extremism with banned outfits operating freely. What is most dangerous is the ostrich-like attitude of the provincial government in the face of the grave threat.

It has almost become a ritual for the government to pledge its resolve to fight terrorism and all manifestations of extremism after each incident of violence. But that is mere rhetoric. One such example was the decision by the prime minister in the aftermath of the Quetta carnage to set up yet another committee headed by the national security adviser, retired Gen Nasser Janjua, to monitor progress on the National Action Plan.

But like more than a dozen other monitoring committees formed over the past two years, the fate of the committee remains unclear. There has hardly been any tangible sign of progress on NAP despite solemn pledges. Surely, no amount of bloodletting could force the interior minister to move against the sectarian militant groups that he declared ‘kosher’. The Lahore incident was, perhaps, waiting to happen.

Despite the claims of a widespread intelligence-based crackdown, some sectarian and militant networks are still active in many districts of south Punjab. Political expediency and the old habit of creating distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants makes it harder to deal with the menace. Thousands of militant suspects have reportedly been arrested by security agencies in Punjab alone over the past two years, but there is no report of their being convicted or even tried by anti-terrorism courts.

Most of the detainees are freed due to lack of evidence. An unprotected judiciary does not want to stick out its neck. The situation has become more complicated with the government’s failure to reform the country’s judicial system as promised under NAP. The military courts have also become ineffective because of the sunset clause. That means detained suspects will either be freed or languish in jail without trial.

Also, the alleged extrajudicial killings of some high-profile sectarian militant leaders do not solve the problem in the long term. Given the constant supply of ‘holy warriors’ coming out of radicalised seminaries, it is extremely difficult to eradicate militancy with short-term measures. These cannot be a substitute for an overarching counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategy.

Most alarming are the intelligence reports about members of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) now operating under the banner of Jamaatud Dawa getting involved with the militant Islamic State (IS) group. The footprints of the global jihadi group were found in several terrorist attacks across the country, though the government has downplayed such reports.

It may be true that IS does not have any organisational structure in the country but the threat cannot be underestimated. Many recent terrorist attacks including the one in Lahore have been claimed by TTP factions that have reportedly pledged to support IS. Reports of an emerging nexus between members of banned militant outfits and IS must be taken more seriously.

Unsurprisingly, foreign hands are being blamed for the latest wave of militant violence. It is certainly the easiest thing to do to cover up one’s own failure. While one must not completely rule out the possibility of foreign involvement particularly given the current regional tensions, it is also true that our own people are facilitating these attacks. Outside forces can only fish in troubled waters and surely our inaction provides them with an enabling environment.

The Charing Cross bombing must serve as yet another eye-opener for state institutions. It is surely a protracted battle which can only be won if we take the threat seriously. Our half-hearted actions make the terrorist stronger. Our leaders must go beyond empty rhetoric and ritualistic condemnation. In order to prevent Lahore-like terrorist attacks from recurring, the militant sanctuaries and support networks in both southern and northern Punjab must be dismantled.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (42) Closed

Mehmood Feb 15, 2017 05:42am

Too good dear Zahid. Hope the establishment finally listens to our plea and stops this network support. Enough is enough!

VV Feb 15, 2017 06:16am

Sound Analysis. Good suggestions. Any takers ?

kerala Feb 15, 2017 08:02am

Sane voice.

Sameer Feb 15, 2017 08:02am

It's an accurate analysis most definitely. I believe the so called leaders of the nation are not intelligent in getting rid of this menace. They seem to hide behind rhetoric after such grave instances instead of an action oriented mentality. They are more scared for their own vip lives than to secure the common man.

anwarSHER Feb 15, 2017 08:26am

Fair and balanced ....

Hugh Jorgen Feb 15, 2017 09:05am

I said it after the Peshawar incidence and will say it again: nothing is going to happen. When a people, a country, a nation has a death wish, nothing and no body can help.

Rizwan Feb 15, 2017 09:03am

Why do I have this feeling that life will go on as before?

IFTIKHAR KHAN Feb 15, 2017 09:08am

Good luck with impossible imagination!

Saif Feb 15, 2017 09:28am

OK, Lahore is "heartland", is the rest a Thatta?

Aamir Feb 15, 2017 09:42am

@IFTIKHAR KHAN does that mean something? you'll have to be more specific..

Aamir Feb 15, 2017 09:42am

@Rizwan it's going to get more interesting.

Feroz Feb 15, 2017 10:16am

When a foreign hand is blamed it has to be understood that the primary goal is to deflect attention from the source and power of terror groups -- the nexus between elements in the government and terror groups cemented over decades through a brotherly ideological bonding. Without uprooting the ideology of bigotry, enmity and hate, extremism will thrive, militants will be bred, terror groups will easily find new recruits and violence will continue. Only targets will vary, sometimes local sometimes in foreign lands.

Ali Akbar Feb 15, 2017 10:18am

Sane voice, same talk, Same Pakistan

Trollslayer Feb 15, 2017 11:05am

Plenty of sane voices and sage counsel, preaching to lunatics at the helm.

Skeptic Feb 15, 2017 11:41am

Either way you dice or slice it, the fact remains that it was a colossal failure.

Rather than looking for some to blame, everyone involved in ensuring public safety - from the local police, to Punjab government and local security agencies. - should own up to this failurento work in tandem to examine the reasons that caused this tragedy, draw lessons from it to device measures to prevent similar events transpiring again.

SHER JANG Gilgit Feb 15, 2017 11:49am

All those with positions of responsibility must ponder over the conclusion of the above insightful article. It can become very easy for any hostile agency to spread it's influence thereby get what it wants to get in a situation wherein unscrupulous citizens merely facilitate them without any remorse. The ball is still in our court if we sincerely think that the country is more important than our individual preferences.

Mohammad ali khan Feb 15, 2017 11:54am

Time is right for a forceful restriction on hate speech and violators deserve severe punishment.Any love which gives rise to hate is unaffordable and should be condemned.Any love which gives rise to hate is evil.

Anees Feb 15, 2017 12:39pm

Did anyone thought about detention of one of the high profile leader and Monday carnage?

Qasim Feb 15, 2017 12:43pm

Foreign hands are the easy scapegoats. But it is our own countrymen who are selling their souls and facilitating or carrying out suicide and other 0bombings and sabotage activities.

SAlman Feb 15, 2017 01:00pm

As long as these polticians are in power, this country faces an existential threat.

Anwar Feb 15, 2017 01:31pm

First we all are brothers and Pakistani. We need to put Pakistan first above every thing, this is the only prescription to progress and safety of the people and our land.

Naeem Feb 15, 2017 01:41pm

The incompetent interior minister if he had any self respect would have resigned

ABE Feb 15, 2017 01:48pm

@Trollslayer - These 'lunatics' were also elected by even bigger lunatics who cannot seem to realize that they have been fooled with false promises time and again, yet they keep voting for this inept lot, every time.

The only way to break this vicious cycle is to have a strong military leader step in to clean the entire country - from KPK to Karachi and bring back all the looted public wealth stashed abroad.

Skeptic Feb 15, 2017 02:26pm

Anywhere else in the world - be it Brussels, Paris, Berlin or Istanbul - the PM, Interior Minister and even the Presidents/Chancellor do make a point of visiting the scene of any carnage or terror attack, to condole and sympathize with the victims, lay a wreath on the scene or make a public appearance to ease public concerns - within hours of every such incident. But not in Pakistan! Not even the CM of Punjab seen anywhere or has spoken to allay public fears or answers demanded.

Even G.W. Bush visited the WTC soon after that tragic day. Obama always made a point of personally condemning all such incidences anywhere in the World. The reason no one else in the World is even expressing any sympathy towards Pakistani people is, because our own leaders lack empathy towards the very public they supposedly promised to protect, lead and represent!!!

V.Sreenivas Feb 15, 2017 03:03pm

The tragedy with nations is that they do not know what needs to be done but the lack of political will to do what is needed. Pakistan does not have the political will to effectively deal with terrorist organizations and will have to pay a price for political inaction. Hope it will realize the urgency to eradicate so called good as well as bad terrorists from its soil and contribute to the welfare of humanity.

Mukesh Feb 15, 2017 04:13pm

Its really sad that so many people lost their lives. Who is to be blamed? Introspection is needed Pakistan.

sa Feb 15, 2017 04:14pm

Its a classic case of "as you sow, so shall you reap"

majid malik Feb 15, 2017 04:48pm

you cannot launch a war against those who are ready to die.

So to me there is no end to terrorism unless we develop the society to the level of west such as Europe and USA

kanwarch Feb 15, 2017 04:51pm

@Skeptic Our rulers are coward and worried about their own personnel safety and therefore will never utter a word of condemnation and no action will be taken. They are here to execute mega projects and make money before settling down in London.

jawaid Feb 15, 2017 05:10pm

The interior minister must be immediately sacked.

Noor-ul-Ain Feb 15, 2017 05:35pm

First of all my heartfelt condolences for the loss of 16 valuable lives and my deep sympathies with grieved families. Indeed, nothing can fill in the gaps in their lives caused due to unfortunate deaths of their loved ones (May their souls rest in peace, Amen). Also, I truly pray for the speedy recovery of the people, injured in this inhumane and brutal act and I strongly condemn it.

Noor-ul-Ain Feb 15, 2017 05:35pm

I have been reading newspaper and going through the views of the valued readers, which I respect. But, I personally believe that this is not the question that what the mensrea was and who was actually targeted. As it is on the face of it crystal clear that said inhumane and dreadful act was just meant to part us, to traumatize us, to fright us and to malign our reputation as a nation. No matter what, this is totally unacceptable and intolerable that our precious lives are being taken away on purpose.

Noor-ul-Ain Feb 15, 2017 05:39pm

My work place is near to Charing Cross where this brutal incident took place. I am also a commuter and usually take Daewoo from Nawa-e-Wqat stop (a place near to the Charing Cross) and on that day, I came to know that Mall road is blocked by a few pharmacists. I took this protest as a routine protest because I have had seen dozens of protests in my three years. I clearly had no clue that this protest is going to be this dreadful. I left my office a few minutes early and I had no idea as to what we are going to face. Due to blockade, I started walking towards regal instead of getting Daewoo. While I was walking on the road I was thinking that how fast these people are crossing the signal thinking that the roads are all cleared up but they have no idea that the roads are still blocked and then they had to slow down the speed.

KhwarIzmi Feb 15, 2017 06:09pm

@Saif I agree. Pakistan is not the size if China. All areas are the heartlands of the nation.

gknatarajan Feb 15, 2017 11:16pm

good article?

haider Feb 15, 2017 11:52pm

@Saif If the body has 'heart' the rest of organs are also the integral part of body, but they play their part in accordance with their importance. In fact hear regulates the whole body parts.

riz1 Feb 16, 2017 12:11am

@SAlman "As long as these polticians are in power, this country faces an existential threat" I would agree had there been no blasts under Mushy, no attempt on his life and peace and stability. Politicians are corrupt and greedy, but they are not to blame when it comes to institutionalized extremism, bully pulpits, hare brained policies. Till we get the real guts to rid of those institutions, it is just going down further.

Ahsan Gul Feb 16, 2017 12:21am

Current particularly and previous government are dragging down Pakistan to such an extent that it will be hard for our country to rebound. Majority of these politicians to include past ones have moved and bought Properties in foreign lands. Their children have business and getting education overseas. So, why these politicians care for Pakistan?

just saying Feb 16, 2017 12:56am

Great piece. Maybe that's why the venerable interior minister looked so glum at the security meeting today (as seen on TV). But my fer is that his glum face had nothing to do with the findings of the Quetta report and all to do with trying to look engaged and serious. With leaders like this, who needs enemies?

Hassan Feb 16, 2017 05:44am

feel pity to the people of my country, this bloodbath will keep pouring no matter who are leading the government. Army has to take up, or they are equally responsible for letting all this happen infront of their eyes

last word Feb 16, 2017 09:47am

War on terrorism can never be won fighting and supporting simultaneously.

PR Feb 16, 2017 07:09pm

Remove the incompetent people and corrupt from our politics... I see no other solution!