Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Jan 23, 2014

Absence of strategy The targeted operation in North Waziristan and adjoining Kurram Agency on Tuesday, including the use of air power, smacks more of a retaliatory action rather than part of any strategy. This in spite of the army’s clarificatory statement that the operation was the result of intelligence pointing to the presence of high profile targets in the area. Although the aerial bombardment yielded conflicting numbers of terrorists killed (about 40-60, including foreign fighters), there were also reports of non-combatant civilians suffering as collateral victims. There are contradictory reports too about Adnan Rashid of the Bannu jailbreak fame being amongst the dead since his house is said to have been hit. It may be recalled that earlier the military had retaliated against the attack on its check post and taken out the attackers after a firefight. Some may consider these retaliatory actions as welcome relief from the seeming paralysis of the government and security forces in the face of the by now daily attacks by the terrorists in different parts of the country. To illustrate, on the same day, a bus bombing in Mastung, some 45 kilometres from Quetta, killed 24 and wounded 40 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran. This route has become a death trap for Shias travelling to or from Iran. All the efforts of the authorities to provide security escorts for buses plying the route have failed to halt the blood and gore. Since the target was sectarian, it bears keeping in mind that this type of violence has escalated in the country since the Ashura incident in Rawalpindi. And of course no one can forget the huge bomb attacks in Quetta in January and February 2013 that killed nearly 200 people from the Hazara Shia community. The usual suspect, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has readily accepted responsibility, reflecting its confidence that it is ‘untouchable’, both in Balochistan and its main base in southern Punjab. As if this were not tragedy enough, three anti-polio workers in Karachi and one in Mansehra were killed on the same day. The result: the anti-polio vaccination campaign in Sindh, that was in only its second day, has had to be called off since the vaccinators have refused to work without adequate security. In case anyone had turned sanguine that the worst was behind us, on Wednesday a cleric was shot dead in Karachi while a police vehicle was attacked in Charsadda, leading to the death of six policemen. Unfortunately, the country has been allowed to drift into receiving these blows from one direction or another, in one or the other part of the country because the government is unable to overcome its paralysis and the sense of drift that commentators are focusing on. These phenomena in the face of the exponential growth in terror attacks is because of the self-inflicted virtually exclusive and strangely fixated notion of talks with the Taliban being the only way out. Since virtually nothing is being done to the perpetrators of terrorist violence, they have been emboldened to up the ante. Clearly, the man responsible for the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and other terrorist groups’ increasing violence is none other than the new chief of the TTP, the bloodthirsty Mulla Fazlullah. While the terrorists have been allowed a free and unfettered run, notwithstanding the retaliatory actions of the military mentioned above, the government appears to be spending its days in cloud cuckoo land. There are some feeble signs that it may be waking up to the necessity of taking firm action, but until and unless these green shoots find expression in some telling blows against the terrorists as part of a sustained campaign, confidence in the ability of the government to handle the situation, already eroded, could suffer a catastrophic meltdown. The government should consult its security structure on the way forward to conduct pre-emptive actions, tactics, strategy, rather than simply retaliating against particular attacks, and those too exclusively against the armed forces. With due respect to the sacrifices of the soldiers and others of the military and security forces who have laid down their lives in the struggle against the terrorists, we cannot allow the perception that the citizens (civilian) of the country are expendable. Increased capacity for the law enforcement and security forces may have to wait for resources, but at least the existing capacity must be brought into play if the country is not to be virtually surrendered to the bombers and gunmen.

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