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Collective failure

Published Jan 11, 2013 09:07pm

WAKE-UP calls are rare in a country as violent as Pakistan. But as desensitised to bloodshed as we have become, a single day in which well over 100 people die in several incidents of terrorism and targeted killing across the country is impossible to get through without thinking about where we are headed as a nation. Thursday laid out, in gory detail, the realities that we collectively face today: the range of communities under threat, including Shias, security forces and the police, journalists, religious organisations, Fata’s tribesmen, and those simply caught in the crossfire. How widespread the threat is, from Karachi to Quetta to Swat in a single day. How many causes are being fought for with violence, from sectarian hatred and religious differences to separatism and ethnic or tribal feuds. And, most importantly, how underprepared we remain despite many unfortunate incidents to learn from.

Thursday’s events pointed both to how much we know and to how much we don’t. The motive and actors behind the Swat attack on the Tableeghi Jamaat and the shooting to death in Karachi of a number of labourers from the tribal areas remain unclear, demonstrating how varied the threats are. But the bomb attacks against Hazara Shias in Quetta were simply the deadliest of a string of attacks on the community in and around the city over the past year. And consecutive bomb attacks have taken place before, with those rushing to the scene, including media persons, having been caught in previous incidents of second explosions closely following a first at the same place. Swat still contains a heavy military and police presence that has been there since the 2009 operation. Baloch grievances have been lingering for years and attacks by Baloch nationalists on the Frontier Corps are old news. So while some threats are new and unexplained, others have by now developed a pattern, stem from a known problem or take place in areas that are heavily guarded.

Thursday’s events were enabled, then, by massive failures on the part a range of institutions, from the government and the media to the military, the police and intelligence agencies. No bold political solutions for Balochistan have been worked out. No decisive military action has been launched in North Waziristan. Intelligence gathering is inadequate and poor coordination between intelligence agencies and the police means attacks are rarely prevented. No sustained national consensus has been built against terrorism and violent extremism, for which the media is also to blame. How long can Pakistan survive in the face of such a complete failure to fend off internal threats?