AFTER a considerable lull, the spectre of urban terrorism returned with full force to Karachi on Monday morning, as Baloch separatist militants stormed the Pakistan Stock Exchange.

According to security forces, four attackers were neutralised while three security guards and a police officer laid down their lives in the line of duty. The proscribed Balochistan Liberation Army has reportedly taken responsibility for the act of terrorism, while security officials in Sindh — as well as the country’s foreign minister — have accused India for activating ‘sleeper cells’ in Pakistan.

The symbolism of the target cannot be missed. The PSX represents the beating heart of economic activity in the country’s commercial capital, and is located in an area where the State Bank of Pakistan, the Central Police Office, and other major public and private institutions are based. Clearly, hostile actors are trying to send the message that the country’s economic nerve centre is vulnerable.

However, the police, as well as private security guards, must be lauded for their bravery and alacrity, which may have prevented a bigger disaster.

Security officials say the attackers came with food and water, indicating that they may have intended to take hostages and prolong the PSX siege. The Sindh Rangers chief says the assault bears a similarity to the November 2018 assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, in which BLA attackers were also involved.

Moreover, speaking after Monday’s incident, he said that Indian intelligence was developing a ‘nexus’ between Baloch and other separatists, as well as elements loyal to MQM-London, adding that the violence targeting Rangers personnel in Sindh earlier this month, believed to have been carried out by Sindhi separatists, was part of the same agenda. The city’s police chief also pointed out that law enforcers had received advance intelligence reports of a possible attack on PSX.

Karachi has witnessed a large number of bombings and other acts of terrorism, mostly orchestrated by jihadi and sectarian militants, over the past two decades or so. This is apart from the ethnic, political and sectarian killings that destroyed the city’s peace from the mid-1980s onwards. Too many precious lives — of law enforcers as well as citizens — have been lost, pushing the city towards a vortex of violence. From Monday’s attack, as well as other smaller-scale incidents over the past few days, it is clear that attempts are being made to destabilise the metropolis.

Security forces must remain alert and step up intelligence-gathering activities to thwart the plans of subversive elements. The possibility that hostile states are looking to stir up trouble in Pakistan at a time when the geopolitical temperature in the region is rising cannot be discounted, which is why security organs must be proactive.

Moreover, if the reports that different separatists and political militants have joined forces are true, then the state must adapt its counterterrorism policy accordingly.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020

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