Thursday, April 27, 2017

Business Recorder editorial April 26, 2017

Kurram bomb attack A roadside remote-controlled bomb has struck a crowded passenger van on its way from Godar to the Sadda area in Kurram Agency, killing 14 people, including five women, four children and four Khasadar Force personnel on their way to provide security for the census teams in the region. Thirteen people were injured. This was the third major terrorist incident in Kurram Agency this year. These three incidents ended up killing 60 people in all and injuring scores. On January 21, a blast in a vegetable market in Parachinar left 25 people dead and 80 injured. On March 31, a car bomb near the main imambargah in Parachinar killed 24 people and injured 70. The latest atrocity in Kurram Agency now has two claimants, one the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), the other Islamic State Khorasan. Not that it matters to the dead and injured and their loved ones which gang of fanatics has murdered these innocent people. JuA has in its claim of responsibility boasted that the target was Shias, with the census duty staff of the Khasadars thrown in for good measure. This spate of attacks in the new year in Kurram Agency comes at a time when the other FATA Agencies are relatively peaceful after Operation Zarb-e-Azb cleansed the region of the long entrenched local and foreign terrorists in the area. Kurram Agency, however, remains especially vulnerable to such attacks because of the volatile mix of a history of sectarian conflict and having been once the stronghold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). When Operation Zarb-e-Azb ended, the universal acclaim at its success in cleansing FATA of the malign presence of terrorists drowned out the caution by perceptive observers that Pakistan needed in the aftermath of these developments to brace for the blowback in the form of terrorism throughout the country. That has been in evidence since. FATA is relatively secure, but that does not preclude the odd attack every now and then. Kurram, for the reasons adduced above, remains more vulnerable even now than the rest of FATA. In all the incidents of terrorist blowback, the fact that soft targets are the main thrust of the terrorists points to two facts. One, the terrorist networks have no doubt been pushed onto the back foot for having lost their safe havens and operating bases of long standing in FATA. Relying on secret and some sleeper cells has not proved easy for the terrorists. Two, while that is a plus for the counterterrorism campaign, it raises the risk of complacency and inertia creeping in when the terrorist riposte is not continuous but occasional. The longer the intervals between terrorist attacks, the more the risk of the security forces letting down their guard, even if momentarily. Those are moments terrorists look for, in fact bank upon. At present, the strategic goal of the terrorists appears to be to keep hitting soft targets to establish that they are still alive and kicking and demonstrate the inability of the state to protect citizens. This failure feeds into the strategic goal of asymmetrical warriors to demonstrate through their actions the erosion of the writ of the state. Asymmetrical warfare trades space for time, chipping away at the concept of the state having a monopoly over violence and being the protector of the ordinary citizen. If this analysis is correct, Pakistanis must brace for more such attacks on innocents, this being the easiest target for terrorists more than a little interested in dismantling the state’s structures of law, order, and security. Such a weakening of perceptions about the state is the biggest psychological warfare advance for the fanatics. The people and the state must be prepared for the protracted nature of the counterterrorism campaign and for the bloody markers along that path that Kurram has shown, and may well continue to exhibit.

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