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Battle in Peshawar

Updated April 18, 2019

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THE 17-hour-long standoff in Peshawar which left five militants and one police official dead has reinvigorated the debate about how safe the country is today after having waged an extended war against terrorism.

The encounter flashed some spectacular images — none more so than the one where the entire structure of a house where the militants were holed up crumbled to the ground under the force of a huge explosion.

What does this event signify? For one, it highlighted the state’s sustained resolve to fight the perpetrators of terror.

At the same time, the incident brought back distressing memories of Pakistan’s long and fierce battle against violent extremism, a menace fuelled both internally and from the outside. Clearly, some battle-hardened elements are still determined to shatter the hard-won, albeit relative, reprieve.

There are aspects of the prolonged siege that must be examined for the information they can provide to further reinforce our counterterrorism tactics.

However, many experts and those with knowledge of operations against extremist outfits have hailed the incident as by and large a successful encounter.

The security forces ultimately overcame the militants, said to belong to the TTP, although an assistant sub-inspector unfortunately lost his life very early in the battle.

Even that loss could perhaps have been avoided, especially when we are repeatedly told that the law-enforcers had prior intelligence about militants being present inside the besieged house.

As to why the face-off lasted as long as it did, there are several explanations, some fairly prosaic.

One of them says that the persistent rain made it more difficult for the security forces to overpower the militants inside the building.

Perhaps more plausibly, the site of the incident being a congested — and upscale — locality may also have demanded cautious handling. Pakistan has suffered long and deep at the hands of terrorists. It must take no chances of the gains being reversed nor allow itself to become complacent.

Indeed, given the increasing gaps between acts of terrorism, Pakistanis will be inclined to be satisfied with the official reassurances voiced after the gun battle and that are going to be offered in the days to come, that this was an isolated incident.

One contention that the people would want to believe is that the law-enforcers, with the counterterrorism experience they have acquired in recent years, displayed such hours-long perseverance because they were confident they had matters under control.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019