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Tragedy strikes again

Updated June 24, 2017

DESPICABLE attacks in Quetta and Parachinar yesterday — one of the most sacred days of Ramazan — have caused a terrible loss of life and injury.

The immediate emphasis must necessarily be on providing the best possible care to the wounded and the families of those who died in the cowardly attacks in two very different regions of the country.

What the attacks suggest is that the approaching Eid holidays across the country are very much a moment of elevated threat.

Whether it is the rising threat of the militant Islamic State group or the old danger posed by the Pakistani Taliban, the militants, together or separately, have demonstrated that they have the ability to strike inside Pakistan.

It is obvious that complacency will not keep the country safe over the upcoming holidays and that safety will only be incrementally re-established if security standards are urgently tightened.

The country has not suffered a major attack over the Eid holidays in several years — a record for which the security forces deserve credit — but past successes should not obscure the continuing threat.

Beyond Eid, however, there remain fundamental questions that have yet to be answered.

Why, for example, has Quetta, a provincial capital that ought to be the most secure of all regional cities, continued to suffer militant attacks?

Many a time, the attacks are on the outskirts of the city — a zone in which it is difficult to provide security — but far too often the attacks occur in neighbourhoods of the provincial capital where tightened security ought to prevent militant infiltration.

The problem appears to be that any particular attack is not regarded as a failure of defensive networks and that none has led to meaningful accountability or change in standard operating procedure.

Quetta is a city that faces myriad threats, but it is also a city that has manifold security resources that ought to prevent significant militant attacks.

Parachinar, of course, remains a region that years — perhaps more than a decade — of counter-insurgency operations has not been able to return to normality.

Why? Some explanations focus on the terrain, a region in which it is possible for militants to escape to multiple surrounding areas, while others focus on the chronically inadequate resources committed by the state of Pakistan to fight the sophisticated militant threat in the area.

More than a decade on since the first counter-insurgency operation in Fata, all explanations are akin to excuses; there is no strategic, tactical or operational reason why Parachinar continues to suffer such regular violence.

The difference is perhaps this: an attack in Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad would attract such widespread anxiety that the state apparatus would necessarily have to take actions to try and prevent further incidents.

Parachinar and Quetta deserve to be treated in the same way.

An attack anywhere in Pakistan is an attack against the entire country.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2017