Thursday, January 21, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 22, 2016

Lessons not learnt The tragic attack on Bacha Khan University (BKU), Charsadda, on January 20 has resurrected memories of the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, attack in December 2014, not only because another educational institution was hit in similar style, but also because the perpetrators are the same group of terrorists. Conflicting reports spoke of sometimes four, sometimes 8-10 attackers involved. After a military operation lasting several hours, the premises were declared cleared of any malign presence. Twenty one people were killed in the attack, most of them students, and one notable death of an assistant professor who fought back against the attackers with his own firearm. Dozens were injured. The similarities with the APS attack extend to the claim of responsibility by Umar Mansoor, the leader of the Geedar group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a former activist of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Although a spokesman of the TTP disclaimed the attack, calling it a violation of Sharia, the confusion may be tactically deliberate or reflect the factionalised nature of the umbrella TTP. The timing too was significant. The BKU was commemorating the death anniversary of Bacha Khan, after whom the university is named, when it was struck. The message is clear. Bacha Khan’s non-violent inclusive politics is anathema to the fanatics, as is education per se. Two facts stand out. The distance of BKU from any big town (it is located outside Charsadda amidst a rural setting) delayed the response by the military and security forces, with special forces units travelling all the way from Peshawar. Had the security guards of BKU not initially resisted the attackers, the toll may have been even more horrendous. But even the deployment of 54 security guards in the university (a sprawling campus) proved insufficient to ward off or eliminate hardened terrorists armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons and suicide vests. Fortunately, the attackers were eliminated before they could set off their vests. ISPR DG Lt-General Asim Bajwa weighed in at a press conference with revelations that the attackers had been identified, their phone calls traced to Afghanistan and two cell phones seized from them. That serves to highlight what we have been arguing in this space for long. The terrorism problem has been displaced to safe havens across the Afghan border or driven underground, from where the terrorists can strike at will with a surfeit of riches as far as targets are concerned. Afghanistan has asked for reciprocal cooperation in reply to Pakistan’s repeated requests for action against the TTP elements ensconced in the wild and poorly policed border area on the Afghan-Pakistan boundary. While Pakistan is pushing the Afghan Taliban towards the negotiation table with Kabul, a process fraught with difficulties and uncertainty, the safe havens on Afghan soil and ‘sleeper’ cells throughout Pakistan allow our home grown terrorists to strike at a time and place of their choosing. This brings into focus the National Action Plan (NAP), agreed with consensus by all political parties. Much criticism has now come the government’s way for not implementing the NAP properly. These sentiments echoed in parliament too. NAP remains in the twilight zone of not having an organisational structure suited to its challenges. Under the circumstances of seeming drift in its efficacious implementation, it answers to the description that success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. Since the federal interior minister seems a reluctant point man for NAP, the architecture of counter-terrorism, NAP’s main thrust after Operation Zarb-e-Azb, remains to be constructed. The National Counter Terrorism Authority remains hamstrung. In its absence, there is no central coordinating centre and shared data base to go after the terrorists throughout the country in a systematic way. Terrorists, particularly those prepared to die in their endeavours, are almost impossible to stop once they have embarked on their mission. The damage they inflict can at best be minimised (although even this minimum is painful). The only way to stop the terrorists is to pre-empt their plans by intelligence-led police operations that nip the evil in the bud. For that, the present NAP setup is wholly inadequate and therefore the government must inevitably bear the brunt of the criticism on its failures. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must himself now step forward and reorganise the counter-terrorism campaign if he does not want his government snowed under the weight of expectation and the tragic failures so far of NAP.

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