IN a brazen attack that claimed five lives, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan targeted the Serena Hotel in Quetta on Wednesday. The high-profile hit is a frightening reminder of the group’s ability to unleash terror. The attack followed the typical TTP modus operandi: the attacker drove an explosive-laden vehicle into the hotel’s parking lot and detonated the bomb. What is of concern is that the vehicle used in the attack was stopped for routine inspection that is carried out at security checkpoints at hotels.
This means the bomber went to great lengths to disguise the explosives and hoodwink security personnel at the checkpoint. The hotel already has significant security measures in place — which makes this attack all the more audacious. Though initial reports linked the attack to the presence of the Chinese ambassador in the city, it appears no foreign officials were harmed and that the diplomat may not have been the target.
At this stage, it appears the TTP’s purpose was to create chaos. It is well known in Quetta that dignitaries and citizens congregate at the hotel after taraweeh prayers in Ramazan, so such an attack would no doubt have the desired impact of creating fear and panic. Isolated attacks claimed by the TTP in Quetta and in North Waziristan are not uncommon, but the targeting of a high-security location has sparked fears of a TTP resurgence. The terrorist group’s network was dismantled to a large extent after successive military operations in recent years, leaving it confined to pockets in North Waziristan and parts of Balochistan.
Even now, security forces conduct routine intelligence-based operations in both the north and south of the country to eliminate the terrorism threat. Wednesday’s attack underscores the need for continued vigilance and heightened security. While there may be considerable truth to the officials’ claim that a foreign hand is involved in attacks of this nature, better intelligence and improved investigation into how such an incident took place are imperative. Does the TTP have local abettors and sympathisers? Had the group been surveilling the hotel to detonate the bomb at a time when the presence of visitors would be considerable?
While there is no doubt that terrorism has sharply decreased in the country in recent years, an attack like this reinforces the reality that militant groups continue to find some support. Before the APS attack, the TTP had unleashed a reign of terror attacking schools, targeting law-enforcement officials and orchestrating kidnappings. The state’s swift and unambiguous response weakened the Taliban — but clearly, though broken and splintered, its ideology and capabilities have not been eradicated. Pakistan has suffered a great deal at the hands of militants, and terrorism has destroyed immense human and economic capital. The government and military must ensure that their focus and resources are focused on dismantling terror networks that still exist.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2021