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Lahore tragedy

February 15, 2017


ANOTHER attack in Lahore, another set of lives lost and damaged — the long war against militancy continues. As bereaved families, the injured and shocked denizens come to terms with Monday’s bombing in the provincial metropolis, perhaps the least that could be asked of our leaders is to refrain from politicising the grim loss of life. But some of Punjab’s rulers do not appear to have empathy and compassion, nor do they seem to understand their jobs. The comments made by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah in which he blamed protesters for giving the terrorists a target on Monday are shocking. It is not the first time that Mr Sanaullah has waded into controversy and perhaps it will not be the last; the provincial law minister appears to deliberately court controversy and has styled himself for his supporters as a blunt, truth-telling leader. In reality, many would agree that Mr Sanaullah embodies the very worst of the PML-N and Punjab’s political class.

It would perhaps even be possible to dismiss Mr Sanaullah’s outburst as the rantings of an under-pressure politician if it weren’t for the fact that he is at the centre of power in the province and that his boorish behaviour is endlessly tolerated by the party leadership. Could it be that the crude politics of Mr Sanaullah and not the ostensibly citizen-first approach of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is the real reason why, despite being the richest, best-resourced province in the country, Punjab cannot seem to deliver results that are decisively and everywhere better than the other provinces? Consider what is implied about the Punjab government’s response in Mr Sanaullah’s comments. No lessons are being sought — none about better intelligence-gathering, improved law enforcement and new crowd control measures — because a top official has already blamed the citizenry. The specific circumstances of the attack may have made it especially difficult to stop the suicide bomber, but ought that not to be the job of the state — to learn incrementally and tighten procedures? If the bomber had struck a market instead, would Mr Sanaullah have blamed the public for visiting markets and shopkeepers for selling their wares?

What is clear is that Punjab has a militancy problem on a scale that the province’s political leadership is unwilling to acknowledge. Worse, the PML-N appears determined to thwart the very systems and institutions that can help roll back the threat of militant violence in the province. The government is averse to a military-led operation; that is within its administrative right. But then, civilian-led institutions such as the police are kept tightly controlled by the politicians and anti-militancy strategies are created on an ad hoc basis. It is as if the politicians do not want to acknowledge the problem, do not want to be a part of the solution, and do not want anyone else to solve it either.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2017