Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 19, 2015

After Attock While Shadi Khan village, along with the rest of the country, mourns Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada, the suicide strike that killed him in what many may have considered a peaceful and secure area of Punjab has focused minds finally on the fact that the terrorists are no respecters of our pre-conceived notions about them. Southern Punjab may have been considered in the popular imagination to be the place where a combination of madrassas and the headquarters of terrorist and sectarian organisations were confined. However, that was always a myth with a big hole in it. Devastating as the attack that killed Khanzada was, it was by no means the first in the other parts of Punjab. Not only that, one line of speculation now has it that the level of information the attackers had on Khanzada’s movements could not be possible without insider involvement. How near or distant from the slain minister such elements may have been is not known at this juncture. However, reports now filtering out of the area point to the proliferation of madrassas in the vicinity of Shadi Khan, some of whom thought poorly of Khanzada’s strong statements against them and their ilk. That is not to suggest we jump to conclusions about such madrassas’ culpability, only that no line of possible inquiry can be ignored at this stage. The prime minister presided over a high level meeting on security in the aftermath of Khanzada and others’ assassination by a suicide bomber, after which he directed the authorities to expedite operations against terrorists in Punjab. Along similar lines, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif not only held a special condolence reference of the Punjab cabinet for Khanzada, he stated his determination to eliminate terrorism, going so far as to assert that he would lead the war against terrorism. This newfound determination to uproot all semblance of terrorism from Punjab is a welcome change from the complacency and even neglect of the past. Condolences and messages of support continue pouring in from all over the world, with the latest missives coming from the UN Secretary General, the EU and the US. The latter has even offered help if asked in the investigation of the attack. Lahore’s citizens paid their tribute to the fallen leader, while even the Punjab Opposition expressed its solidarity and support to the anti-terrorist struggle. This coming together of all shades of opinion bodes well for the future. The military meanwhile has pounded the terrorists in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan and parts of Khyber Agency, reaping a toll of some 65 terrorists killed, including some foreigners. Official spokesmen were reluctant to comment on whether these air attacks were in retaliation for the Attock attack. Nevertheless, clearly it is a response of one sort to the atrocity. Once the passion for revenge and giving it back to the terrorists subsides, it will be time to go back to the drawing board to reappraise and reprise the anti-terrorist strategy. Although some progress has been made in constructing an anti-terrorist architecture, in which Shuja Khanzada’s contribution to creating the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department must be counted as very important, the present state of partial ability to pre-empt and hurt the terrorists may be sufficient to win battles, but not necessarily the war, which by its very nature promises to be a protracted one. Questions are being asked about the lax security around Shuja Khanzada in his native village, despite his receiving threats. Deference to higher ups may have interfered with a professional standard operating procedure to safeguard the minister. The discernible pattern of reacting to such events by beefing up security (albeit temporarily) soon tends to give way to inertia and back to business as usual. This is precisely what the terrorists rely on. They wait for the authorities to let their guard down sooner or later and then choose an appropriate moment to strike. While only intelligence information can aid pre-emption of such attacks, the standard protocols need to be revisited with an eye to overcome the laxity that eventual inertia brings naturally and which provides the terrorists the opening they need for their dastardly work. Pakistan is at war. Laxity cannot be allowed even for a minute. Constant vigilance is the price to be paid for victory.

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