Intensifying atrocities and threats
Three developments on Wednesday point to the intensifying atrocities and threats from the terrorist network in Pakistan. First was the devastating and horrifying twin suicide attack targeting the DIG FC’s residence in Quetta. At least 26 people were killed, including the wife of the DIG FC and three children, and over 60 injured, some of whom are described as critical. It is a sign of the cowardly nature of the terrorists’ campaign in Pakistan that they do not shrink from making war on women and children. And this barbarism is sought to be justified in the name of Islam! The targeted residence lay in a busy and high security area of the city. That raises the question of how the terrorists’ vehicle, laden with 100 kg of explosives, managed to sneak into the area without being checked. Equally, how did the second suicide bomber on foot manage to evade security and reach inside the house, the chaos and confusion of the first blast notwithstanding, within minutes of the vehicle’s exploding? These questions point to security gaps and lapses even for such a high profile area.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Hakeemullah Mehsud was quick to claim responsibility, asserting it was in retaliation for the arrest of three al Qaeda top leaders from Quetta the other day. Further, the TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan threatened to launch even bigger attacks in future. If there was any lingering doubt on the issue, this attack and the claim of responsibility clearly establishes the nexus between the TTP and al Qaeda. Since the TTP is currently enjoying the hospitality of the Afghan Taliban across the border, that just about squares the circle. The terrorist network now encompasses al Qaeda, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. What does this say about our military establishment’s clinging to the out of date notion that the Afghan Taliban are our ‘strategic assets’ as the Afghan endgame approaches? Arguably, the military establishment may be painting itself into a corner in future that may hold some unpleasant surprises. It must by now be understood by our military high command that the shelf life of the idea of relying on jihadi proxies for foreign policy or even domestic political goals has long ago passed its sell-by date. The military, as one of the most powerful organs of the state, responsible for defence and security, must revisit the situation inside Pakistan and on its periphery as it has panned out and understand that the only solution for both our country and the region is a return to the moderate vision of Islam that defined us before the extremists hijacked it in the present sinister, destructive direction.
If the Quetta incident were not sufficient to underline the real security threat Pakistan faces from the extremist terrorist network, two other developments appear to clinch the argument. There is a report of a very real security threat in Peshawar, already the victim of some of the worst terrorist attacks the country has seen, along the lines of what happened in Quetta. Two bomb hoaxes on PIA flights panicked passengers and officials and resulted in diversions towards the closest airports en route, before checks revealed no bombs on board. Disruptive activities such as these can be equally damaging to struggling PIA and the country as a whole in terms of its international image and credibility.
The military first and foremost, and the political and social forces of the country must now pull together against the extremist threat that appears to be intensifying in response to actions within Pakistan against the terrorists, such as the Quetta al Qaeda arrests, and the approaching endgame in Afghanistan. A return to the moderate, tolerant, civilised Pakistan of not so distant memory would have a salutary effect within, as well as outside the country, to its obvious advantage. Accompanying this turn of the page, the terrorists must be fought to the bitter end, not given leeway to exploit the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ illusion to their advantage.