Friday, January 22, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 23, 2016

Post-Charsadda Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Davos (where the latter had met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif), Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and General John Campbell, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, the latter two in Kabul, to pass on information gleaned from the investigations into the attack on the Bacha Khan University (BKU) in Charsadda. The COAS shared with them the finding that the attack was controlled from a location in Afghanistan through an Afghan cell phone by a Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) operative. The attack has been claimed by Umar Mansoor of the banned TTP Geedar group, also responsible for the December 2014 Army Public School (APS) attack in Peshawar in which 150 students and teachers were massacred. A spokesman of the TTP, Mohammad Khorasani, had however issued a conflicting statement condemning the attack as being against sharia and warning that those misusing TTP’s name would be brought to justice. Whether this is a genuine disclaimer by the TTP or motivated by the backlash the attack on BKU is likely to evoke is not clear at this point. There is no word yet what President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah or General Campbell had to say in response to the COAS’s calls. The only word, and it is not encouraging, came from the Afghan interior ministry’s spokesman Sediq Seddiqi, who dismissed the claim that the attack emanated from a TTP ‘terror base’ inside Afghanistan, denied that there were any TTP sanctuaries within his country and in turn accused Pakistan of sheltering the Afghan Taliban. It is not clear whether the interior ministry’s spokesman was conveying the official position of the Afghan government. Even if he was not, the response is not surprising or unexpected. It merely reflects the mistrust and suspicion between the two neighbours accumulated over the decades the Afghan wars have raged. While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has labelled the attack as inspired by India’s RAW intelligence agency, unnamed security officials have spoken to the media about the identities of two of the four attackers. One is from the Sararogha area of South Waziristan and another from Swat. The other two are under age and there is no record for them. This suggests that they either came from across the border or were underground within the country after their home bases in Swat and South Waziristan were cleared of terrorists in military offensives during the previous government’s tenure. While dozens of suspects are reported to have been picked up as the result of a combing operation in and around Charsadda mounted after the attack, four men have been detained from Shabqadar who hosted the four attackers one night before the assault. This revelation shines the spotlight on the modus operandi of the terrorists. It stands to reason that attackers need this kind of local support infrastructure in order to operate. This should be the focus of our intelligence agencies: find the support network and it may lead you to the actual perpetrators of such attacks, and may even help to pre-empt them. As has been in evidence numerous times after such terrorist atrocities, we are very quick to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Suddenly government authorities have woken up to the need to bolster the security of educational institutions according to standard operating procedures (SOPs) worked out by the security authorities. A painful question remains: why was this not seen to after the APS attack? Why are educational institutions now being told their security arrangements must meet the SOPs or they would not be allowed to operate? What were these same authorities doing till now? Was this not part of the National Action Plan (NAP), which by now is so discredited that wags have dubbed it the National Inaction Plan? Given the complexity and inherent difficulty of safeguarding soft targets like educational institutions, it will not do to wait for the terrorists to hit before waking up to the imperatives of the situation. At the risk of repetition, we would once again argue for dedicated ownership of NAP under one umbrella with a shared data base if the critical pre-emptive side of NAP is to become a reality, the only path that feasibly can get to the terrorists before they get to us.

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