Monday, August 17, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 18, 2015

Terrorist riposte The assassination of Punjab Home Minister Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada and 17 others by a suicide bomber at his village of Dera near Attock, tragic as it is, should not surprise us. Mr Khanzada was leading the counter-terrorism fight in Punjab since he took over the Home portfolio in October 2014. A brave man, he did not let the obvious dangers that his task entailed deter him. However, given that officials and his son have revealed that he had been receiving death threats of late, it seems the security arrangements at his native home were not up to the mark. The suicide bomber (or bombers?) managed to sneak in close enough to detonate a huge bomb with such devastating effect that the building in which Mr Khanzada was receiving people totally caved in and buried all those under it who were present. Unfortunately, because the place of occurrence was a relatively remote village, by the time a rescue operation could be mounted, Mr Khanzada was dead along with the other victims. An outpouring of grief, condemnation and resolve not to allow the martyrdom of such a brave soldier deter us from the task of eliminating the terrorists was seen from almost all political leaders and the military. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while reiterating the country’s resolve to win against the terrorists, ordered the security agencies to develop a pre-emptive strategy. Colonel (retd) Khanzada was an obvious target since he was leading the fight against the terrorists in Punjab. He had also handled the security of the Zimbabwe cricket team on its visit to Lahore and the Pakistan Cricket Board expressed its condolences as well as appreciation for his role. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, while expressing his grief at the loss of a colleague, announced three days of mourning for the martyred minister. While grief and resolve are the right mix of response to the tragedy, some sober reflection may also be called for. The killing of Shuja Khanzada is the first high profile loss of the PML-N. Other parties, particularly the PPP and ANP have suffered the loss of many prominent persons in the past. Even the PTI has lost some of its people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, Punjab, some terrorist incidents in the past notwithstanding, was by and large considered secure. Critics were wont to ascribe this seeming calm to the tolerance shown to the terrorists, particularly in southern Punjab, by the PML-N, but this was always denied. Now however, after this tragic incident, it is time to reflect. The strike against a sitting minister in his native village in the north of the province suggests the reach of the terrorists is not, if it ever was, confined to southern Punjab. The informed perception that they have sleeper cells all over the province and that arguably Punjab offers many terrorist outfits a safe haven and headquarter had been mooted, but never properly taken up. One report says some 57 discrete terrorist and sectarian groups have a presence on Punjab soil, a number that may well have grown by now to 95. With their leadership ‘safe’ in Punjab, these groups have spread and are active all over the country. If true, this means the head of the snake will have to be scotched in Punjab. Shuja Khanzada’s death may or may not be retaliation for the recent killing of Malik Ishaq, the head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but some such motivation, in collaboration with other groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, cannot be ruled out. As to the prime minister’s capital suggestion of a pre-emptive strategy, we have consistently argued for this in this space, pointing out that success in counter-insurgency in FATA will inevitably evoke retaliatory terrorist actions in the rest of the country, and to meet this challenge, intelligence-led police operations will be required in the cities and urban areas. But for such operations to reach pre-emptive efficiency, a centralised organisation and data base are a sine qua non if the fight is to be taken to these enemies of humanity.

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