Thursday, January 14, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 15, 2016

It ain’t over yet The suicide blast at a polio centre in Quetta and the attack on the Pakistan consulate in Jalalabad in Afghanistan on January 13 point to the fact that the struggle against terrorism is far from over. The incident in Quetta has evoked at least three claims of responsibility, i.e. from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jaish-e-Islam and Jundullah. All three are jihadi terrorist groups that oppose the polio eradication programme on spurious grounds such as a conspiracy to make children infertile through the drops administered to prevent the crippling disease. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries left in the world where polio is endemic. Progress in eradicating the menace in Pakistan has been thwarted by the deaths of 80 immunisers, their guards and others since December 2012 in such attacks. The immunisers, mostly women, are therefore heroes on the front line of the polio campaign, at considerable risk to life and limb. In Quetta, the bulk of the casualties were from the police contingent deployed outside the polio centre, waiting to escort the polio teams on their day’s immunisation drive. Twelve policemen, one FC soldier and two civilians were among the dead, while 25 people were injured, some critically. In Jalalabad, three attackers and seven Afghan troops were killed in the gun battle. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, with its rival the Afghan Taliban distancing themselves from the incident. One consulate staffer, three children and seven police personnel were among the injured according to reports, but this was denied by the Pakistani foreign office spokesman, who contended all consulate staff were safe and unharmed. President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to condemn the attack and express solidarity, and the PM in turn stressed his sorrow for the loss of Afghan troops’ lives. Ghani assured the PM Afghanistan would provide enhanced security for Pakistani diplomatic staff in the country. The attack has drawn comparisons with the ‘siege’ of the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif a week ago. The two incidents in the two neighbouring countries offer insights and lessons. In Pakistan, Operation Zarb-e-Azb’s successes notwithstanding, we have been warning in this space that the problem has not gone away. The TTP terrorists have been pushed across the border from their safe havens in FATA or driven underground in the rest of the country. The counter-terrorism drive under the National Action Plan has unfortunately yet to commend itself, largely because it is an orphan, with the federal interior minister a reluctant point man and the lack of a centralised coordinating centre for the task. It is heartening nevertheless to hear statements of intent from the Balochistan government to pursue the polio campaign despite the atrocity and to continue the struggle against terrorism to the bitter end. Intent notwithstanding, the two attacks on the same day point to the residual terrorist capabilities of jihadi groups under the hammer here, and the possible collaboration of TTP and other Pakistani groups who have fled to Afghanistan with IS on Afghan soil. The Afghan authorities are claiming that the bulk of the IS fighters in their country are from Pakistan’s FATA, and therefore quite possibly from the groups that have sought safety in Afghanistan. If this surmise is correct, it suggests the critical need for Pak-Afghan coordinated strategies for overcoming the common challenge of terrorism and the construction of the counter-terrorist architecture required in Pakistan, which has so far been conspicuous by its absence. In the latter case, fighting the plethora of terrorist groups at home without a coordinating centre is to fight with one hand tied behind one’s back. There are the issues of bringing the military and civilian intelligence and security agencies under one umbrella, constructing a centralised database for all terrorist groups, and mounting intelligence-led operations to eradicate the elusive presence of the terrorists in our midst. The FATA operation’s success has reduced the counter-insurgency task more or less to guarding against cross-border incursions by the TTP and others. The lack of satisfactory success in the counter-terrorism area is the lag that needs to be addressed along the lines suggested above. The government’s failure to lead on this front, conceptually, organisationally and in practice on the ground is the major cause of the less than satisfactory rendering of accounts with the fanatics. The government must urgently address this lapse.

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