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Shabqadar carnage

May 13, 2011

THE deadliest suicide attack this year in Pakistan claimed scores of lives and renewed a fear that more may follow. Indeed, that is precisely what the Pakistani Taliban are vowing in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden. Yesterday's assault in Shabqadar, Charsadda district, on paramilitary cadets embarking on buses to go home serves as a grim reminder that the enemy within is alive and well, and focused on causing as much havoc as possible. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the attack and say they will not back off come what may. So that leaves us with a very serious question: at a time when relations with the US are becoming increasingly strained and the political situation at home is developing fault lines, will the authorities simply accept the blowback or give a fitting response to those who threaten our way of life?

The answer, hopefully, is the state will not accept such tactics. Acts of retaliation for Osama bin Laden's killing, irrespective of the furore that the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty has created, are perhaps to be expected but on no count can they be tolerated. In the same breath it ought to be stated that a major security lapse did indeed take place in Shabqadar on Friday. Lives might have been saved if better checks and balances, and perhaps even more significantly, superior intelligence inputs had been in place. It is almost impossible to unarm a suicide bomber when he or she has already arrived at the venue which is being targeted. The game is over by that time. Enhancing security after the event counts for little. The key here is prevention and concrete measures to ensure that. However, this has been sadly lacking in what we have seen so far, with a few exceptions, in the fight against terrorism.

That said, too much blame cannot be heaped on the country's security personnel. They are overstretched and battling a foe that is both elusive and difficult to understand. The enemy has sanctuaries in the tribal areas as well as some of the country's most densely populated areas. To take preventive action in so lawless a state is no easy task. Yet the battle must be fought, especially in this heightened state of insecurity. Al Qaeda was always a nebulous organisation and the death of Osama bin Laden does not mean his sympathisers have been taken out. What is needed at this point is better intelligence, so that countries that are ostensibly working jointly to tackle militancy and terrorism realise the problems the other nation faces.