Saturday, January 10, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 11, 2015

Imambargah blast A suicide blast at an imambargah (Shia mosque) in Rawalpindi has killed seven worshippers and injured 18, amongst whom some are in serious condition. The bomber tried to enter the imambargah while a majlis (religious gathering) was in progress and, when challenged at the entrance by guards, blew himself up. The target obviously indicates a sectarian attack. Shia organisations have announced three days of mourning. The tragedy cannot be described as a complete surprise since blowback from the terrorists as a response to the military and security drive against them was predictable and expected, especially after the Peshawar atrocity against school children. Following he Peshawar massacre and in response to the newfound unity throughout the country for confronting the terrorists, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah had sent a blood curdling message from his hideout across the border on Afghan soil that more attacks like Peshawar would be mounted. There really is very little left to say after this about the nature and barbarous, fanatical character of the TTP. We should thank the TTP for clearing any lingering confusion about its aims and methods, thereby uniting state and society against its murderous intent. However, the challenge is immense, not the least because the festering wound has been left unattended for far too long, but also because inherently such struggles take years to finally put down. There is therefore a long and tortuous road ahead. If the requisite unity and political will remains intact, this road can be traversed successfully. Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar’s statement that the terrorists would be “completely eliminated” may sound like music to the ears of our countrymen appalled by the TTP’s blood soaked avatar, but can this ‘elimination’ be achieved by military means alone? Consider. First, the lessons to be drawn from the imambargah suicide attack, some of them mere reiterations of what we have been arguing in this space for a very long time. It has been demonstrated time and again that it is virtually impossible to stop a suicide bomber unafraid of death, in fact welcoming it in a skewed justification of ‘martyrdom’ conferring a holy status and a straight passage to heaven for the perpetrator, once he has embarked on his deadly mission. Providing foolproof security for the entire country too is too tall an order. What may be considered in this regard is the prioritisation of the most likely and vulnerable targets and concentrating scarce resource s of manpower, etc, to these marked terrorist ‘bull’s eyes’. But the real issue is to once again imbibe the wisdom that the only way a suicide bomber prepared to embrace oblivion is to pre-empt him before he is launched. Inevitably, this suggests a better level and operationalisation of intelligence than appears to be the case so far. After all the toing and froing in the All Parties Conferences and scores of meetings at all levels, it is still not clear where the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), supposed to be the centre of the anti-terrorism effort, stands. Nor is it clear whether the military intelligence agencies have overcome their traditional suspicion of their civilian counterparts and agreed to cooperate with them at the level of intelligence sharing and joint operations under the umbrella of NACTA. Without putting these basic measures in place, the initiative will remain with the terrorists and bombers, who have a surfeit of riches to choose from as far as possible targets are concerned. Although the first nine military courts to be set up in the four provinces, three each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Sindh and one in Balochistan seem to be on the verge of becoming a reality, there is still a lingering conspicuous absence of a coherent, coordinated, holistic strategy against the hydra-headed monster of terrorism. Military operations in FATA will evoke counter-attacks of a terrorist nature in the cities and the rest of the country. While the citizenry is by now braced for this possibility, there still appears a long way to go before the authorities catch up with the terrorists, let alone move ahead of them in delivering blows that would permanently cripple their capabilities to sow havoc amongst ordinary citizens attempting to go about their business.

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