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Militants strike again

Updated November 24, 2018

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A DEVASTATING sectarian attack in lower Orakzai district on Friday and an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi a few hours earlier on the same day have bloodily underlined that the country is still confronted by a complex array of militant threats.

The attack in lower Orakzai district is likely to have originated from across the border in Afghanistan, with Jamaatul Ahrar or the militant Islamic State group being the likely perpetrator. The two groups are known to have sanctuaries in Afghanistan, and the attackers possibly entered Pakistan through an unfenced portion of the former Kurram agency.

If the preliminary suspicions of the security apparatus are confirmed, there should be greater urgency to complete the fencing along the border with Afghanistan. Wherever possible, the Pakistani state should take whatever steps it can to prevent militants from crossing the border with Afghanistan. Ultimately, however, the issue of anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan will have to be addressed in a reciprocal manner with the Afghan government.

In Karachi, greater disaster may have been averted, but the seeming ease with which heavily armed attackers were able to reach their intended target has raised a number of questions from a security perspective. The quick reaction of the Sindh police and the paramilitary Rangers has been praised by government officials, and security personnel may have prevented more casualties and a nightmarish hostage scenario. But that should not obscure intelligence and security failures that may have allowed the attackers to arrive at their target undetected.

If disaffected or separatist Baloch militants are responsible for the attack, it would be yet another sign that the state’s policy in Balochistan is not delivering the intended results of peace and security. The longest-ever Baloch insurgency may have been contained through a militarised approach to dealing with the problem, but the attack in Karachi indicates that the militants still have the capacity to launch an attack that could undermine at least economic relations with Pakistan’s key strategic partner, China.

If Balochistan is truly to take advantage of the historic opportunity that is CPEC, the wrong-headed approach of the state in tackling what is at its core a political problem by military means will have to change.

Finally, while the attacks yesterday may have very different causes, a common thread is that the state’s responses and strategies in fighting militancy will have to continue to evolve. The PTI federal government has been firefighting on the economic front and is mired in familiar political tensions with the opposition, as a result of which it has not yet turned its attention to the serious business of improving the capacity of the civilian side of the security apparatus nationally.

It is about time Prime Minister Imran Khan turned his attention to domestic security policy, too.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018