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Karachi blast

March 04, 2013

A CITY already battered by a cycle of violence has been rocked by a deadly attack targeting the Shia community — the tragedy in Karachi yesterday is compounded by the fact that the description could apply to several other Pakistani cities, not least Quetta and Peshawar. After each such attack as yesterday’s in Abbas Town (located in an area prone to attacks) the same set of questions are asked — and never answered. Leave aside why the attack took place at all and what the intelligence apparatus did to try and prevent it, where are the lessons learned by the law-enforcement personnel, emergency services and first responders? Law-enforcement personnel are often worried about their own safety after such attacks because angry crowds can turn on them, but that still leaves a vital job to be done: helping emergency services and first responders rescue the injured and saving lives. Instead of helping impose order, an all-too-familiar scene of chaos broke out: ruptured gas lines were not quickly closed, rescue equipment was late in arriving and expertise was missing from the site. Much as bystanders and citizens want to help in such situations and can do some good, collapsed buildings pose a special danger and rubble moved hastily by untrained volunteers can cause more harm to survivors. But then, with the state absent, can people stand by and watch others die unnecessarily?

After the dust settles and the dead are buried and the injured are discharged from hospitals, the next set of usual questions will be asked. Among them, why is Karachi’s security and intelligence apparatus unable to detect militant cells and groups capable of mounting such devastating attacks in the city? But perhaps more pertinently, the past has to be re-examined first. What exactly has been done to find, prosecute and shut down the groups that have perpetrated previous major attacks, in Karachi and elsewhere? The answer, known to one and all, is damningly little. Little can be fixed in the present if the recent past continues to go unaddressed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the geographical spread of violence against Shias: from Quetta to Peshawar and Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan with Lahore thrown in for good measure recently, no one federal or provincial intelligence or security agency can address the threat on its own. But with meaningful cooperation between various tiers being intermittent and institutional turf wars a reality, the country is no closer to finding a solution to a problem that just keeps growing in complexity and scope.