Saturday, January 31, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 1, 2015

Terrorist carnage Either a suicide or planted bomb of great intensity blew away an imambargah in Shikarpur, Sindh, during Friday prayers when the faithful had gathered in high numbers. The death toll was 56 and expected to mount as some of the 90 injured were in critical condition. Hospitals and rescue services were overwhelmed in Shikarpur despite the efforts of citizens to pull the dead and particularly the injured out of the rubble the two-story imambargah had been reduced to. Some of the critically injured who could not be treated locally were shifted to surrounding cities and an airlift was arranged to take victims to Karachi for treatment. Jundullah, a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which last year declared its affiliation with Islamic State (IS), claimed responsibility. In a statement by their spokesman, the sectarian nature and purpose of the attack was triumphantly articulated. This is the second attack on an imambargah since the beginning of 2015, the earlier one claiming 20 lives in Rawalpindi. A reflection of the inadequacy of our security regime is the fact that the imambargah, according to surviving witnesses, had no security for the last three Fridays. Shia and other religious and political organisations called for a protest strike all over Sindh on Saturday, which at the time of writing these lines was in progress, and three days of mourning. Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah also declared an official day of mourning on Saturday and journeyed to Shikarpur where he announced the ritual financial compensation to the victims and their families, asked the IG for a report, and ordered DIGs throughout Sindh to secure places of worship. In other words, the usual reactive mode of all governments, provincial and federal, to such terrorist carnage. What is conspicuous by its absence is a plan, steps to implement it, and standard security protocols for sensitive sites such as houses of worship, particularly at their most vulnerable during Friday prayers. The Shikarpur tragedy could be seen as the expected riposte by the terrorists to the military operations underway in FATA. However, what distinguishes it are three aspects. One, since the anti-terrorism plan, flawed and inadequate as it may be, has taken steps to secure as far as possible the big cities, with the Karachi operation yielding dividends in terms of relative control and evoking praise from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while visiting the city, it is the smaller cities and towns that await similar security arrangements, protocols and standard operating procedures, especially since this attack indicates the terrorists may be shifting their attention to such areas. Second, like in Rawalpindi, the attack on a Shia imambargah kills two birds with one stone: slaking the sectarian bloodlust of the terrorist madmen and creating the fear and trepidation any terrorist attack is intended to provoke. Third, the attack in the interior of Sindh strikes a direct blow at the traditional tolerant Sufi culture of the province. This culture has been under pressure for years from the incremental radicalisation of interior Sindh through the spread of madrassas (especially Deobandi), desecration of Hindu temples and forced conversion of Hindu girls who are then married off to their torturers. Unfortunately, like so much else that is wrong with our (non-) response to the exponential growth of extremism and terrorism, not so benign neglect has been the order of the day for long. By now, the chickens of these negative trends have come home to roost. The armed forces in action in FATA are being appreciated for their clear thrust in taking head on the terrorists in their former bases. However, the civil side, and especially the federal government, appear weak, indecisive and incompetent. It is no wonder then that the usual worms have crawled out of the woodwork of late in the form of calls for the military to simply take over and do the needful. This may appear necessary at first glance to those frustrated by the conspicuous lack of credible actions by the government to meet the existential challenge to our country, but this is not a solution. It will only complicate Pakistan’s position internationally without necessarily yielding the results desired by those voicing such calls. Without the civil side pulling its weight, terrorism, particularly in the cities and urban areas, will not be overcome. Therefore the government has to lead and to be seen to be leading the charge. And while it stops talking and undertakes practical steps to boost intelligence-led operations against the terrorists, the crying need for a central organisation with a comprehensive data base on the terrorists and able to coordinate the plethora of civil and military intelligence and security forces in a holistic campaign has never presented itself more strongly than now.

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