Thursday, November 22, 2012

Daily times editorial nov 23, 2012

Sectarian terror rampage In terrorist attacks on an imambargah in Karachi and a Muharram procession in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, 20 people were killed and dozens injured. At the imambargah in Karachi, despite the ban on riding or parking motorcycles within half a kilometre of all imambargahs, a rider tried to ram his explosives-packed motorcycle into the imambargah, but smashed into a rickshaw instead and exploded, killing three and injuring 20 people. While bomb disposal, police, rescue personnel and citizens were trying to sift through the debris and remove the injured, another explosion of a planted device close by injured another 13 people. Meanwhile in Rawalpindi, a suicide bomber joined a Muharram procession and blew himself up, killing 17 people and injuring several others. There are contradictory reports of the incident, with the authorities claiming the suicide bomber overcame the barbed wire and other security impediments in his path in an effort to get to the procession and, when challenged by security personnel, blew himself up. Eyewitness accounts, however, say the bomber joined the procession unchallenged. Knowing as we do that the Shia community is already under attack from fanatical terrorists throughout the country from Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this Muharram was expected to be bloodier than usual. The authorities had been making tall claims about massive security in and around imambargahs and processions to safeguard against any attacks, but Wednesday’s events in Karachi and Rawalpindi indicate that, as usual, the security arrangements left much to be desired. How, for example, was the motorcycle rider able to get within close proximity of the imambargah in Karachi, given the ban on motorcycles within half a kilometre? Additionally, it seems that no lessons have been learnt from such attacks in the past. One explosion is often followed by another when security personnel and volunteers throng a bomb blast site for rescue, etc. That is exactly how the second bomb, planted close to a wall of the imambargah, was able to cripple even more innocents. As far as the Rawalpindi incident is concerned, City Police Officer Azhar Hamid Khokhar made the laughable statement after the incident that security would be further beefed up, when eyewitness accounts relate that only six policemen were on protection duty with the procession. Difficult as the task of preventing such attacks is inherently, especially on occasions like Muharram when gatherings and processions of the faithful are the very essence of the commemoration, it seems that there is still a wide gulf between even the best-laid plans of the authorities and their implementation in practice. Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to link the Rawalpindi attack with the ongoing D-8 summit in Islamabad, as an attempt to sabotage Pakistan’s efforts to invite investment into the country. The incident may well end up having that effect, but the link is tenuous, especially if the Karachi attack is taken into account. The real fear on the eve of the 9th and 10th of Muharram, when the commemorations reach a climax with huge processions, is what may happen next. On the evidence so far, the ability of the authorities to pre-empt, prevent or stave off such sectarian attacks has been shown to be compromised. If this be the case, one shudders how much more blood and gore of the innocent citizens of this country, of whatever denomination, must be sacrificed to the madmen before Pakistan turns the corner towards sanity. In a war, which is indubitably what we are engaged in against the fanatics and terrorists, casualties are unavoidable, including the collateral damage of innocent citizens. These sacrifices could be borne if it could be demonstrated that the struggle against the fanatics is yielding fruit and that the dark tide of terrorism is being steadily and incrementally turned back. Such optimism today would be considered close to foolishness. We have been arguing in this space for ever so long that an overarching strategy against terrorism of all hues and shades, conducted by an overarching body able to call on all the intelligence, data and resources of all state agencies, civilian and military, is the critical need of the hour if this bloody struggle for the heart and soul of Pakistan is to be won. We hope the authorities are listening.

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