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Crucial questions

February 20, 2013

A SECOND round of tragic but dignified protests across the country this year has come to an end with the Shia Hazaras of Quetta agreeing to bury the victims of Saturday’s bombing and to withdraw their demand that security of Balochistan’s capital be officially handed over to the military. The protests may be over but hard questions still linger — questions that if not answered satisfactorily could lead to another incident that is almost too awful to contemplate: another devastating attack on the Hazaras of Quetta. A spate of arrests has taken place and some alleged Lashkar-i-Jhangvi activists have been killed since the weekend, leading to the first obvious question: who are the people arrested and killed, and why, if they are in fact members of or linked to the LJ, was action not taken before?

It is a fairly common law-enforcement phenomenon in Pakistan that after intense pressure is brought to bear on the security agencies — either because of public demands or the sheer scale of terrorist activity — the security apparatus casts a wide net and hauls up or ends up killing all manner of suspects. Little is ever proven subsequently against the suspects, few details are shared with the public and only the most tenacious of citizens or journalists ever finds out what happens to those suspects, many of whom are eventually released, either because they were falsely implicated or the investigations and prosecutions were bungled. What is all the more remarkable about the latest round of arrests and counterterrorism operations is that the January bombing of the Hazaras did not spur this action, only a second devastating bombing in the space of approximately one month did. Just what will it take for the security apparatus to go after the killers of the Hazaras with the urgency and ferociousness that the situation demands?

Almost as worrying is the absence of any real understanding of the scale of the problem. As the deposed IG of Balochistan explained earlier this week, the attacks in Quetta are often planned outside the city, in other parts of the province. And preliminary intelligence reports on Saturday’s bombing suggest that at least the material for the bomb came from another province. Include the possibility of the porous borders of Balochistan also playing some role and the targeting of the Hazaras becomes an intra-provincial as well as an inter-provincial and cross-border problem. That means coordinating across a range of state intelligence and security agencies to track down the network of killers and dismantle it. Does anyone in the state apparatus have the understanding, let alone the will, to make that happen?