EVEN though it was not the first attack on Shia pilgrims in Balochistan, the modus operandi of Tuesday's cold-blooded murder of 26 bus passengers near Mastung showed a descent into new depths of savagery. The pilgrims, mostly from the Hazara community, were lined up by terrorists who checked their identity cards before mowing them down. An ambulance going to the aid of the victims in Mastung was fired at, killing three people. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has brazenly claimed responsibility for the two heinous acts. One is appalled by not only the militants' fiendish mindset but also the authorities' failure to provide protection to buses carrying vulnerable pilgrims. What is also cause for regret is the tour operators' indifference to their clients' safety. While it is true that the terrorists are quite capable of meticulous planning and a careful choice of targets, the authorities should have had the common sense to anticipate Wednesday's killings, given that this was the third such sectarian attack in Balochistan since July. Surely, if an entire community, vulnerable to such attacks, cannot be provided security, there are ways in which safety can be assured for smaller groups, such as pilgrims, likely to be targeted. The obvious measure would be to have well-armed security escorts in vehicles forming a cordon round buses carrying pilgrims. The success of this mode of security was demonstrated in the Hub area in July 2007 when police vans were able to beat back an attack on Chinese engineers and kill many terrorists. Similarly, the tour operators and the security authorities could work out a scheme to have armed guards within the buses.
The fight against Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is part of the country's larger battle against the Taliban who have declared war on the state and people of Pakistan. The enemy is ruthless and indifferent to human suffering and innocent deaths, and targets school buses, hospitals and funerals without any qualms of conscience. While the government has to operate within the sphere of the law, these constraints should not deter the state in its resolve to stamp out terrorism in all its forms and give protection to the people.
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