PAKISTAN seems poised on a knife-edge, and not only on account of the issues consuming much of the oxygen on the national stage — political polarisation and the army chief’s appointment. The grim reality is that we are at a point where militancy could once again start raging out of control, if not tackled immediately.
Combined with the domestic challenges confronting us — a divided polity and an economy in crisis — that would pitch us into a predicament extremely difficult to manage. In the latest episode of an intensifying series of militant attacks, eight law-enforcement officials were martyred on Wednesday in two separate incidents in KP.
In Lakki Marwat, gunmen opened fire on a police van, killing six personnel who were on their way to perform security duty at a weekly cattle market.
The attack was claimed by the banned TTP. On the same day, two soldiers lost their lives in an exchange of gunfire with militants near the Pak-Afghan border in Bajaur district.
The term ‘strategic depth’, one of the buzzwords of our regional foreign policy in the last few decades, has come to haunt us. As soon as the Afghan Taliban took power in Kabul, militant attacks in Pakistan registered an uptick. Certainly, law-enforcement agencies have seen some successes in anti-terrorism operations, but the last few months have made it quite apparent that the militants are in the ascendant.
The KP police are on the front lines, and while they are said to be sufficiently well equipped, they are at a disadvantage in some ways. For one, there are gaps in intelligence and these must be bridged through better coordination between the police and the security forces.
The cops also often lack immediate backup support, leaving them vulnerable to a resilient enemy that has gained time to regroup and strategise over the months that the state’s ill-fated negotiations with them were underway.
A rash of attacks on policemen claimed by the TTP in September had made it clear that the talks had not borne fruit. However, resurgence of militancy is still not front and centre in the national discourse.
People in the affected areas of KP, particularly Swat and the newly merged tribal districts, who have seen first-hand the devastation wrought by violent extremism, are well ahead of the rest of the country in raising the alarm.
Several massive protests have taken place, most recently in lower Waziristan, with thousands chanting slogans against militancy.
The state, on the other hand, has taken a disconcertingly nonchalant approach. For example, commenting on Wednesday’s attack on the cops, the IG KP claimed, implausibly, that it proved the terrorists “are taking their last breaths”.
A head-in-the-sand attitude will take us closer to disaster. The state must acknowledge the gravity of the problem and set about addressing it. Or we could have another terrible tragedy like APS on our hands, and our conscience.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2022