Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Feb 15, 2017

Lahore attack fallout Much of the reaction to the deadly terrorist bombing in Lahore on February 14 is familiar and predictable. There are the ritual condemnations by important personalities, condolence messages from around the world, and vows to crush the hydra of terrorism. Into that category have so far fallen the responses of the civilian elected leadership. Although a new resolve is being expressed to see the struggle against terrorism to its ‘logical conclusion’, many are questioning why this resolve was not seen earlier. Police sources in Lahore speak of a Punjab-wide crackdown against all manner of banned groups, without discrimination. We have been here before many times. What remains is to see whether this time the implementation of the crackdown will be thorough and effective. The investigating teams claim suspects have been picked up, the body parts of the suicide bomber who blew himself up in the thick of the drug trade’s rally at Charing Cross in front of the Punjab Assembly have been sent for DNA testing, and a combing operation, especially in the Afghan and Pashtun communities, is being launched (which raises concerns about ethnic profiling). Meanwhile the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the atrocity and released a photo of the suicide bomber. It may be recalled that JuA had carried out the Easter attack last year in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore, amongst other similar attacks in the past. Intelligence sources’ warning of possible further attacks in other locations proved prescient as on February 15, there were blasts in Mohmand Agency and Peshawar. It seems a full scale revival of terrorist atrocities is upon us. The Punjab police believes the senior police officers killed in Lahore were the real targets. In Peshawar’s Hayatabad area, a van carrying magistrates and judicial staff was bombed. Unfortunately, the police response appears more of the reactive same, with no signs of a proactive, critically necessary strategy. For example, amongst the steps proposed in the latest directive to all law enforcement agencies in Punjab, security is to be ‘beefed up’ (the ritual response after every terrorist incident) by snap checking at police posts (which has seldom yielded anything significant), abandoned or unidentified vehicles are not to be allowed parking in public places, and traffic jams are to be avoided (how?). All of this produces a profound sense of deja vu. While the Punjab government seems finally to be awakening from its Rip Van Winkle sleep to tackle the terrorist threat, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa appears to be seriously considering stepping in where the civilian side in Punjab seems reluctant to go. Chairing a Corps Commanders meeting on February 14, General Bajwa ordered a combing operation in southern Punjab, long known to be awash with terrorist and sectarian groups operating freely. The pusillanimity so far on show from the PML-N government in Punjab towards firmly grasping the nettle of this malign presence in southern Punjab may be overtaken by the military or paramilitary taking action. Despite the fact that General Bajwa directed that the Punjab government be taken into confidence before launching the operation, the track record in Sindh in the context of the Rangers’ operation/s in Karachi is a cautionary tale of how such an intervention leads to the incremental erosion of the authority of an elected civilian government. But if such an outcome becomes inevitable, the Punjab government will have no one to blame but itself for its long neglect of a critical task that has been staring it in the face for years. Perceptive analysts had predicted that the euphoria following the undoubted successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA should not blind us to the likely consequences of the terrorists cleared out of the area fleeing to Afghanistan. That warning is now it seems coming to pass with a vengeance. Wisdom demands that the civilian and military authorities put their heads together to come up with steps to overcome the lacunae and weaknesses so far in the implementation of the counter-terrorism campaign, amongst which an overarching organisation for counterterrorism, centralised database and effective pre-emptive intelligence-based actions must take pride of place.

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